[FPSPACE] Report: Viking I lander may have found evidence of life on Mars after all

Peter Pesavento pjp961 at svol.net
Fri Apr 13 12:20:03 EDT 2012

Via the Daily Mail (UK)





'It's 99% certain there is life on Mars': Shock finding as scientists
re-analyse soil samples from Seventies Viking lander

*	Soil samples from Viking 1 lander which visited Mars in 1976 
*	Mathematical analysis shows strong sign of organics 
*	Samples had been dismissed as contaminated 
*	'99% probability of life' claims one scientist

By Rob

PUBLISHED: 03:08 EST, 13 April 2012 | UPDATED: 03:49 EST, 13 April 2012 

In July 1976, the Viking 1 probe touched down on Mars and failed to find
traces of life - but now, three decades later, scientists think the
experiment was flawed. 

VIking 1 did find evidence of extraterrestrial microbes in soil samples from
the Red Planet.

Mathematical analysis of the samples concluded 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 - an indication of
life. To the surprise of the scientists, they found it.

'This suggests a robust biological response,' say the researchers, from the
University of Siena and California's Keck Institute. 

'These analyses support the interpretation that the Viking LR experiment did
detect extant microbial life on Mars.'

The reassessment was prompted by the discovery of 'perchlorates' in the soil
at the landing site of another Mars lander, Phoenix, in 2008.

The presence of the chemicals in Viking's samples had led scientists to
conclude the samples were contaminated. 

The scientists behind the experiment remain divided over how conclusive the
evidence for life on Mars is. 

Christopher McKay of Nasa's Ames Research Centre said, in an interview with
Discovery News, 'Finding organics is not evidence of life or evidence of
past life. It's just evidence for organics.' 

'The ultimate proof is to take a video of a Martian bacteria. They should
send a microscope - watch the bacteria move,' said Josheph Miller of USC's
Keck School of Medicine.

'On the basis of what we've done so far, I'd say I'm 99 percent sure there's
life there.' 

Future Mars missions may be able to settle the question.

One forthcoming unmanned mission is the new Mars Science Laboratory rover,
called Curiosity, scheduled for launch in November. 

The $2.5 billion nuclear-powered machine will land on Mars' surface with a
suite of 10 science instruments to try to determine if conditions are
favorable for life. 

Another key Mars mission is scheduled for 2016. Called the ExoMars Trace Gas
Orbiter, it will carry five science instruments and will study gases in
Mars' atmosphere, including methane, for evidence of biological or
geological activity. 

'The instruments on that atmospheric mission have a factor of 100 to 1,000
increase in sensitivity over what is currently available from Mars orbiters
or from ground observations,' said Mark Allen, Ph.D., who is the U.S.
project scientist for the 2016 Mars mission. 

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