Overview of Mars Fossils

There might not be life on Mars today, but that does not mean that there was never life on Mars. Lifeforms leave lots of evidence that they existed, from fossilised bones, shells, footprints and other tracks. In Astrobiology even the tiny fossils of microscopic plants and creatures are searched for.

Humans have long speculated about long dead civilisations on Mars. In 1877 Italian Astronomer, Giovanni Schiaparelli, discovered what appeared to be canals on Mars and this led to speculation that when the Sun was younger Mars may have been more like the Earth.

Mars Canals

Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli drew this and other detailed maps of Mars.

Physical Fossils

Mars Fossil

Tube-like structural form that is less than 1/100th the width of a human hair in size found in meteorite ALH84001

The search for life does not always involve travelling to Mars, some meteorites that have collided with the Earth have been proven to have likely been ejected from Mars during a large collision from a asteroid or comet. In 1996 one of these rocks, Allan Hills 84001, showed evidence of a Mars fossil however it was later shown that they same ‘fossil’ physical appearance can be achieved by natural phenomena so these fossil like shapes cannot be used as definitive proof.

The search for life continues, if we cannot trust life signs in meteorites then the best place to look is on Mars itself. There have been three Rovers sent to Mars to search for life and there are many other missions planned, such as ExoMars which is being designed alongside in the UK.

Read through the below resource and activities that look at Astrobiology. The search for life on Mars can be an exciting way to look at what makes life viable here on Earth and what human beings require to survive.

Chemical Fossils

The search for past life on Mars is not restricted to digging up rocks and hoping to find physical signs of life. Robotic explorers both on Mars and in orbit can look for the chemical signs that life once existed, or that Mars had a climate that would support life as we know it on Earth.


Boron was recently discovered in calcium-sulfate veins on Mars using the ChemCam instrument on NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover. This is the first Mars mission to detect boron on the Red Planet.

Further Materials, Resources & Information

Below you will find more resources and external websites related to this lesson.

Full STEAM Ahead – Space Exploration Education Grant

UK Space AgencyThis lesson has been produced as part of the Full STEAM Ahead Project with the UK Space Agency. We are one of eight organisations across the UK to be awarded to deliver and produce exciting new education outreach activities and projects. The UK Space Agency are delighted to be able to support these projects, which represent a diverse selection of cross-curricular activities that meet it’s education objectives in encouraging children to take up STEAM subjects, raise awareness of careers in space-related areas, and raise awareness of the UK’s exploration programme.


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