Did NASA Destroy Evidence Of Alien Life On Mars 50 Years Ago?
The potential of extraterrestrial life on Mars has long piqued the interest of scientists and astronomers alike. Now, according to recent claims by a famous researcher, NASA may have 'accidentally deleted' important proof of alien habitation on Mars half a century ago.
This article digs into this expert's contentious claims and considers the consequences for our understanding of Mars and the larger search for indications of life beyond Earth.
NASA may have discovered alien life on Mars 50 years ago when it launched its two Viking landers, but the agency mistakenly killed it.
Dirk Schulze-Makuch of the Technical University Berlin made the assertions, believing that a 1970s experiment introducing water to the soil destroyed any life hidden in the Martian landscape.
The Viking Labelled Release experiment first tested positive for metabolism, but a further investigation discovered no sign of organic material. Schulze-Makuch believes that the water in the soil containing a nutrient solution was too much liquid, 'and [any life] killed out after a while.'
While the hypotheses may appear absurd to some, bacteria living inside salt rocks in the Atacama Desert, which has a similar terrain to Mars, do not require rain to exist - and too much water would kill them.
NASA's Viking mission's two landers landed on Mars on July 20, 1976 (Viking 1) and September 3, 1976 (Viking 2).
The landers were outfitted with various instruments, including a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer, an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, a seismometer, a meteorological instrument, and stereo colour cameras. The instruments allowed them to look for life indications and examine the soil and environment's physical and magnetic features.
In an op-ed for BigThink, Schulze-Makuch described the findings as "puzzling," noting that one of the tests returned positive for gas exchange while another returned negative.
Nonetheless, trace levels of chlorinated organics were discovered. The affirmative test for life added water to the soil to determine if respiration and metabolic products occurred. If life existed on Mars, bacteria would eat the nutrients and emit radioactive carbon as a gas.
'If we suppose that indigenous Martian life adapted to its environment by incorporating hydrogen peroxide into its cells, this could explain the Viking findings,' writes Dirk Schulze-Makuch.
'If the Martian cells had included hydrogen peroxide, they would have died. Additionally, it would have caused the hydrogen peroxide to react with any organic molecules in the area, resulting in enormous volumes of carbon dioxide - exactly what the equipment measured.'
Another experiment, pyrolytic release, evaluated for organic synthesis, also yielded positive results. This experiment combined carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to investigate if the soil would absorb the carbon.
The Viking landers found chlorinated organics, but experts believe they may have infected the planet with terrestrial 'hitch-hikers.'
'However, later missions have confirmed the presence of native organic molecules on Mars, although in a chlorinated form,' Dirk Schulze-Makuch stated.
'Life on Mars could have adapted to the arid environment by surviving within salt rocks and taking water straight from the atmosphere,' says one researcher.
'The Viking studies, which involved adding water to soil samples, may have overwhelmed these potential bacteria, leading to their demise,' says the study's principal author.
Dirk Schulze-Makuch is one of many scientists to suggest that NASA discovered life on Mars 50 years ago. The same notion was promoted in a paper published in 2016.
The evidence acquired by the Viking mission is 'compatible with a biological explanation,' according to experts from Arizona State University, Tempe, and the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, implying microorganisms on Mars adapted and evolved to withstand tough climatic circumstances.
The researchers examined the outcomes of the 1976 Viking Labelled Release Experiment and analyzed the 'non-biological explanations.' In the studies, samples of Martian soil from both landers were injected with nutrients, preheated, and even stored in the dark for two months.
The findings were strikingly similar to those reported in terrestrial soil, including data from California, Alaska, and Antarctica.
'Each of these characteristics, including the initial positive responses, the 160C and 50C heat controls, the reabsorption of evolved gas upon second injection of nutrient, and death from isolated long-term storage,' the authors wrote in the study.
The Viking 1 and Viking 2 landers continued their missions until their final transmissions to Earth on November 11, 1982 (Viking 1) and April 11, 1980 (Viking 2), respectively, but they remain on Mars to this day.
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