Curiosity and Opportunity have been roving around the Martian surface for a combined total of twenty-five years: photographing, sampling soils, monitoring climate, searching for water; wandering alone on an empty planet, quietly performing tasks for people 196 million miles away.

While neither Rover’s primary objective has been to find life, they’ve both been looking for it on the side. On top of conducting all the geologic surveys and climate tests, they’ve been looking for signs that microbial life may have ever existed on the Red Planet at some point in time. And, of course, they’re looking for signs that any form of life exists there now…

Which, they may have actually found.

Yes, the rovers may have found evidence of life on Mars. And not just any life, either: it appears, that the rovers may have found evidence of fungal bodies growing in the irradiated soil of our neighbor planet — which is to say, Martian mushrooms.   

At least, that’s according to researchers who just recently published a paper suggesting that theory. Based on a series of photographs taken by both the rovers and by satellites they argue that not only have we found and photographed these fungal-like potential organisms, but we’ve actually come into contact with them — by running them over with our rovers.  

It’s not proof of life on the Red Planet — but it seems to be evidence supporting that it’s there.

“Sequential photos document that fungus-like Martian specimens emerge from the soil and increase in size, including those resembling puffballs,” the paper, published in Advances in Microbiology, writes.

Puffballs (aka Basidiomycoda) are a common fungus found in the central US and Canada, that look exactly like what their name implies: puffy balls, that spit spores out of a hole in their top. The puffballs observed by the rovers, apparently emerged from the soil around the rovers, according to the paper.

The report goes on to describe what happened, after these possible Martian mushrooms were squished under Curiosity’s wheels.  

“After obliteration of spherical specimens by the rover wheels, new sphericals-some with stalks-appeared atop the crests of old tracks.” It says.

Which is to say, the scientists observed new growth after the original objects were crushed — which is not a natural feature of non-biological geology (that we know of). The paper also points out that fungi thrive in highly irradiated environments, like those found on the surface of Mars. Making the possibility for fungal life on the Martian surface a real possibility, and — according to the authors of this paper — perhaps even a reality.

Contrary to what many click-bait articles out there are asserting, though, these scientists stopped short of saying that this is hard proof of life on Mars. If those authors and debunkers had actually bothered to read the paper itself, they’d have also seen right in the conclusion section, that these scientists acknowledge “minerals, weathering and unknown geological forces that are unique to Mars" could totally be responsible for this phenomenon as well.  

But, by their hypothesis, it seems more likely to be fungal in nature.

“Although similarities in morphology are not proof of life, growth, movement, and changes in shape and location constitute behavior and support the hypothesis there is life on Mars.” The study summary concludes.

Which is a compelling enough argument. This should looked into, beyond this paper’s simple photo analysis. Because, if NASA’s rovers have in fact rolled up on fungi growing on Mars it raises some very big questions: What other forms of life exist there? How long has life existed on Mars? How ubiquitous is life on the Red Planet, or in our solar system? And are these Martian mushrooms psychedelic?!

Because if they are, future Martian astronauts could also become Martian psychonauts. And what could be trippier than shrooming out on the surface of Mars?