NASA scientists have allegedly been working tirelessly for years in order to establish the possibility of finding any form of life on the planet Mars.

To date, they assert that no definitive evidence has been found, despite recent reports which suggest that the planet hosts a plentiful water source. But a recent image snapped by the Opportunity rover earlier this year has elevated the topic into a cause celebre amongst scientists in this field of research.

The image shows an unusual stone-like object on the surface of Mars, which seemed to suddenly appear in one of the photos.
The object appears to have a red centre surrounded by a white circumference and has been nicknamed "Pinnacle Island" by NASA, who have stated that they believe it to be merely a piece of rock. Its appearance is thought to be due to it having been knocked into the rover’s purview by its wheels as it was manoeuvring in the area.

"We have looked at it with our microscope. It is clearly a rock," principal rover investigator Dr. Steve Squyres said last week during an event marking the 10th anniversary of Opportunity’s mission on Mars."It appears that it may have flipped itself upside down."

Despite these reassurances, astro-biologist Dr. Rhawn Joseph is so convinced that the object is worthy of further attention that he has filed a lawsuit against NASA in an attempt to force them to investigate the photographs in more detail. He is convinced that the object could be a “mushroom-like fungus, a composite organism consisting of colonies of lichen and cyanobacteria, and which on Earth is known as Apothecium.”

Joseph claims that he was able to perceive the "rock" in the "before" image, having magnified a version of this in which he claims the object is partly visible. He says that the object’s sudden appearance would be consistent with the behavior of Apothecium, as the spores of this type of fungus can react to environmental conditions and grow.

“[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," explained Joseph. "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.”

Joseph went on to say that it would be “inexplicable, recklessly negligent, and bizarre” if NASA did not scrutinize the object it by taking more microscopic, high-resolution photos from different angles.

“Any intelligent adult, adolescent, child, chimpanzee, monkey, dog,
or rodent with even a modicum of curiosity, would approach, investigate and closely examine a bowl-shaped structure which appears just a few feet in front of them when 12 days earlier they hadn’t noticed it,” he wrote. “But not NASA and its rover team who have refused to take even a single close-up photo.”

The lawsuit, which was filed against the space agency and its administrator, Charles Bolden, is calling for the NASA to provide evidence that it will "thoroughly scientifically examine and investigate a putative biological organism."

If close-up photos do exist but have not been revealed, Joseph has condemned NASA for not releasing them to the public; however, NASA maintain that all images have been shared and that it is continuing to progress research on Pinnacle Island’s composition.
The organisation has been reluctant to discuss the issue of the lawsuit, but agency spokesman Bob Jacobs stated: “As we do with all our scientific research missions, NASA will continue to discuss any new data regarding the rock and other images and information as new data becomes available,”

"Finding evidence of life on worlds other than Earth is obviously an important goal for NASA," NASA’s Allard Beutel said. "But it has to be definitive evidence."

There are those in high places who believe that the search for extra-terrestrial life is not a futile endeavour; in a recent interview on the "Jimmy Kimmel Live" show, Bill Clinton expressed his view that he is confident that life will be found outside of our own planet, and despite having fully reviewed the Roswell papers and finding no conclusive evidence, he would not be shocked if extra-terrestrials one day visited Earth .

 “We know now we live in an ever-expanding universe,” Clinton said. “We know that there are billions of stars and planets literally out there — and the universe is getting bigger. We know from our fancy telescopes that just in the last two years more than 20 planets have been identified outside our solar system that seem to be far enough away from their suns — and dense enough — that they might be able to support some form of life.”

“So it makes it increasing less likely that we’re alone,” he continued.

Meanwhile, if you want to take a look for signs of life on the Red Planet yourself, this month will be your best opportunity for the next couple of years.

The opposition of Mars, which occurs once every 26 months, will begin to occur on April 8th when Mars will be aligned with the Earth and the Sun. The term "opposition" is so called due to the fact that when Mars is at its closest point to the Earth, on April 14th, it will appear to be totally opposite to the Sun. At this stage it will be a relatively close 92 million kilometers away from us, and therefore should be an exceptionally bright presence in the sky.

"You won’t have any trouble finding Mars on this night," the video’s narrator says. "The full moon will be gliding by the Red Planet in the constellation Virgo providing a can’t-miss landmark in the midnight sky."

A Youtube video of the opposition can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xngUpUyyT70&list=PL8F7BC3F1240213F5