Summary: Astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell suggests that NASA’s Viking landers may have found life on Mars in 1976 but inadvertently killed it. The Viking landers conducted experiments to search for microbial life, and the results were initially deemed inconclusive. However, Dartnell argues that the experiments may have actually detected life, but the methods used to analyze the samples could have destroyed any Martian microbes.
Astrobiologist Suggests We May Have Destroyed Martian Life in 1976
Astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell suggests that we may have already discovered life on Mars in the 1976 Viking mission, but inadvertently killed it. The Viking landers conducted experiments designed to search for microbial life on the Martian surface. The results of these experiments were initially deemed inconclusive and have been the subject of debate among scientists for decades.
One of the experiments, known as the Labeled Release (LR) experiment, involved mixing a sample of Martian soil with a nutrient solution tagged with radioactive carbon. If there were microbes in the soil, they would metabolize the nutrients and release radioactive gas, which could be detected by the lander. The experiment did detect a release of gas, but it was not clear whether this was due to biological activity or a chemical reaction in the soil.
Dartnell argues that the methods used to analyze the samples could have destroyed any Martian microbes. The Viking landers heated the soil samples to sterilize them before conducting the experiments. This was done to kill any Earth microbes that may have contaminated the samples, but it could have also killed any Martian microbes present.
Furthermore, Dartnell points out that the Martian soil contains perchlorates, which are toxic to Earth microbes but could be used as an energy source by Martian microbes. Heating the soil would have converted the perchlorates into a toxic gas, which could have killed any microbes present.
Dartnell’s theory is not universally accepted, and the question of whether life exists on Mars remains unresolved. However, his arguments highlight the challenges and uncertainties involved in searching for extraterrestrial life.
And we say, the next time let Mark Watney conduct the research. Afterall, he is mars top botanist and he can grow everything there…
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