April 13, 2012
Life Discovered On Mars, Researchers Claim
A new analysis of data collected by the NASA Viking mission has determined that there is life on Mars.
Two Viking probes landed on Mars in 1976 and carried out an experiment that heated soil to try and create a chemical reaction that would indicate the presence of life.
One of the three experiments, which were known as the "Labeled Release" (LR) experiment, hinted to the presence of life on Mars, while the others did not.
A mathematical analysis of the samples found that salts in the soil on Mars "threw off" initial estimates, and that the soil samples show strong evidence of microbial life.
The new analysis looked for "complexity" in the samples, which the scientists claimed to have found.
"This suggests a robust biological response," the researchers wrote in the International Journal of Aeronautic and Space Sciences (PDF). "These analyses support the interpretation that the Viking LR experiment did detect extant microbial life on Mars."
The scientists decided to reassess the Viking samples because of the discovery of "perchlorates" in the soil at the landing site of another Mars lander in 2008.
The presence of chemicals in Viking's samples led scientists to believe that the samples were contaminated.
Scientists behind the experiment are split over how conclusive the evidence for claiming there to be life on the Red Planet is.
The scientists of the new research said that the complexity pattern in the experimental samples from Mars strongly suggest "a robust biological response."
However, some scientist disagree with the method, claiming that biological complexity is not a tested method for demonstrating life on Earth.
"Ideally to use a technique on data from Mars one would want to show that the technique has been well calibrated and well established on Earth," planetary scientist and astrobiologist Christopher McKay told Discovery News. "The need to do so is clear; on Mars we have no way to test the method, while on Earth we can."
Joseph Miller, with the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, told Discovery News, that ultimately, NASA should just send a spacecraft up there to end the debate.
"The ultimate proof is to take a video of a Martian bacteria. They should send a microscope -- watch the bacteria move," Miller told Discovery News. "On the basis of what we've done so far, I'd say I'm 99 percent sure there's life there."
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover, called Curiosity, may be able to help scientists better determine whether there is life on Mars.
The $2.5 billion spacecraft has 10 science instruments to try and determine if conditions on the Red Planet are favorable for life.
Image Caption: The boulder-strewn field of red rocks reaches to the horizon nearly two miles from Viking 2 on Mars' Utopian Plain. Scientists believe the colors of the Martian surface and sky in this photo represent their true colors. Fine particles of red dust have settled on spacecraft surfaces. The salmon color of the sky is caused by dust particles suspended in the atmosphere. Color calibration charts for the cameras are mounted at three locations on the spacecraft. Note the blue star field and red stripes of the flag. The circular structure at top is the high-gain antenna, pointed toward Earth. Viking 2 landed September 3,1976, some 4600 miles from its twin, Viking 1, which touched down on July 20. Image Credit: NASA/JPL