Life…on Mars?

In 1976, two American space probes, Viking 1 and Viking 2, landed on Mars. After collecting data and performing experiments, scientists decided the planet was lifeless. But now, several scholars are beginning to question that conclusion. Is there life on Mars?

Is there Life on Mars?

“To paraphrase an old saying, if it looks like a microbe and acts like a microbe, then it probably is a microbe. The presence of circadian rhythmicity and a high degree of mathematical complexity or order in the LR data most likely means Viking discovered microbial life on Mars over 35 years ago.” ~ Joseph Miller, Biologist, University of Southern California

The controversy over the possibility of life on Mars deals with a set of experiments known as Labeled Release (LR). Essentially, nutrients as well as radioactive carbon were added to Martian soil samples. Then researchers monitored the air for radioactive carbon dioxide and methane, which would indicate possible metabolization of the nutrients. Although carbon dioxide initially appeared, subsequent tests were unable to duplicate the results.

But new experiments as well as a statistical reexamination of the original data indicates “considerable support for the conclusion that the Viking LR experiments did, indeed, detect extant microbial life on Mars.” Here’s more on the possibility of finding life on Mars from ScienceBlog:

In 1976, the National Aeronautical Space Agency (NASA) launched the Viking program, sending space probes to Mars to determine whether there was life on the red planet. Thirty-six years later the debate about life on Mars is not over, but research conducted in part at the University of Southern California (USC) offers more proof that life may exist on this neighboring world…

In the experiments, the Viking landers dropped on Mars about 4,000 miles apart, scooped up soil samples and applied a radiolabeled nutrient cocktail to the soil…The active experiments did indicate metabolism…But due to lack of support from two other Viking experiments that did not find any organic molecules in the soil, most scientists believed the LR data had been compromised by a non-biological oxidizing property of Mars soil.

Miller and colleagues did not accept this interpretation, and over the last six years applied measures of mathematical complexity to the data from active and control Viking data, as well as terrestrial biological and non-biological data sets. Not only did the active Viking LR experiments exhibit higher complexity than the control experiments, but the active experiments clearly sorted with terrestrial biological data series whereas the Viking LR control data sorted with known terrestrial non-biological data…

(See ScienceBlog for more on the possibility of Life on Mars)

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