NASA seeks pasta-shaped rocks on Mars

Local News

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — A NASA-funded study said rovers on Mars should search for pasta-shaped rocks as they look for signs of life. 

University of Illinois geologist Bruce Fouke, who led the study, said the rovers should specifically be on the lookout for fettuccine and capellini-shaped rocks. 

“When you go to Yellowstone and start seeing these large filamentous microbes that are actually the size of pasta – they look identical to pasta,” Fouke said. “So we used the phrases ‘fettuccine and capellini’ to describe them.”

Fouke’s team, which includes his son, Kyle, is searching for rocks and bacterium similar in appearance to ones at Yellowstone National Park, which has a harsh environment. Fouke said the team has collected the microbes, bundled together like pasta strands, using sterilized pasta forks. 

“This kind of research is positioning us very well to be able to have NASA sample returns brought here to Illinois,” Fouke said. “So we can analyze them and definitively determine that there were microbes on those planets at that time.” 

Fouke’s research was published in the journal Astrobiology this spring.

“As a scientist, one of the things we’re always trying to express and convey our work to the general public,” Fouke explained. “One of the things that connects all of us on planet Earth beautifully is our love of food. Of course, anyone who’s been to Rome understands the power of pasta. This idea that you can have a very important geological fossil caused and created by microbes that love heat and are also ancient and part of looking for the origins of other planets, having that all come together via a connecting point called fettuccine and capellini is a pretty good way to start.”
 

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