Is it a rock -- or alien life?
A strange "mystery" rock on Mars showed up in images snapped by the Opportunity rover on Jan. 8. And now astrobiologist Dr. Rhawn Joseph claims in a lawsuit that there's more to this mineral than meets the eye.
He is suing NASA and its administrator, Charles Bolden, in an effort to compel the space agency to take a closer look at the rock. The petition, which was filed Monday in California, calls for NASA to "closely photograph and thoroughly scientifically examine and investigate a putative biological organism."
But NASA identified the object as a rock -- an odd rock that was somehow flicked into view, possibly by the rover itself -- but a rock nonetheless.
"We have looked at it with our microscope. It is clearly a rock," principal rover investigator Dr. Steve Squyres said during an event marking the 10th anniversary of Opportunity's landing on Mars. "It appears that it may have flipped itself upside down."
Joseph asserts that the object resembles a "mushroom-like fungus" similar to an apothecium. He also contends that rather than mysteriously appearing in the photo, the rock was present in a "before" photo released by NASA. He posted on Cosmology.com a magnified version of the photo to show that the object is partially visible.
How does that support his argument? Joseph provides an explanation in the suit:
[S]pores were exposed to moisture due to changing weathering conditions on Mars. Over the next 12 days these spores grew and developed into the structure depicted... The evidence is consistent with biological activity and suggests that life on Mars may have been discovered. However, in the absence of moisture, biological specimens such as Apothecium will dry out, turn brittle and break apart and this appears to be the condition of the structure as depicted.
NASA spokesman Allard Beutel told The Huffington Post that agency scientists are continuing to analyze the rock. "Finding evidence of life on worlds other than Earth is obviously an important goal for NASA," Beutel said. "But it has to be definitive evidence."
Meanwhile, Joseph waits for those high-resolution photos of the mysterious object.
"The refusal to take close up photos from various angles, the refusal to take microscopic images of the specimen, the refusal to release high resolution photos, is inexplicable, recklessly negligent, and bizarre," he writes in the petition.
Read the full lawsuit below.