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IJASS, vol. 15, no. 4, pp.419-433, December, 2014

DOI: Aeronautical and Space Sciences

Opportunity Rover’s image analysis: Microbialites on Mars?

Giorgio Bianciardi, Vincenzo Rizzo and Nicola Cantasano
University of Siena / National Research Council / National Research Council

Abstract: The Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity investigated plains at Meridiani Planum, where laminated sedimentary rocks are present. The Opportunity rover’s Athena morphological investigation showed microstructures organized in intertwined filaments of microspherules: a texture we have also found on samples of terrestrial (biogenic) stromatolites and other microbialites. We performed a quantitative image analysis to compare images (n=45) of microbialites with the images (n=30) photographed by the rover (corresponding, approximately, to 25,000/15,000 microstructures). Contours were extracted and morphometric indexes were obtained: geometric and algorithmic complexities, entropy, tortuosity, minimum and maximum diameters. Terrestrial and Martian textures present a multifractal aspect. Mean values and confidence intervals from the Martian images overlapped perfectly with those from the terrestrial samples. The probability of this occurring by chance is 1/2^8, less than p<0.004. Terrestrial abiogenic pseudostromatolites showed a simple fractal structure and different morphometric values from those of the terrestrial biogenic stromatolite images or Martian images with a less ordered texture (p<0.001). Our work shows the presumptive evidence of microbialites in the Martian outcroppings: i.e., the presence of unicellular life on the ancient Mars.

Keyword: Mars Exploration Rovers, microbialites, fractal analysis, life on Mars.