NASA may have discovered life on Mars 50 yrs ago – but accidentally killed it

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Around 50 years ago, NASA’s Viking landers may have discovered alien life on Mars – but inadvertently killed it, scientists have said.

Dirk Schulze-Makuch from the Technical University of Berlin claims an experiment conducted during the 1970s, involving the introduction of water to the Martian soil, could have led to the extinction of any life forms that existed on the planet.

Known as the Viking Labeled Release experiment, this test initially yielded indications of metabolic activity, only for a second investigation to yield no traces of organic material.

Schulze-Makuch said that water, along with a nutrient solution introduced into the soil, might have been in excess, leading to unfavorable conditions for any potential life forms, ultimately resulting in their demise.

Scientists said that similarities can be drawn with microbes living in salt rocks in the Atacama Desert, which shares a resemblance with Mars’ landscape.

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These microbes thrive without relying on rain and excessive water could prove fatal for them.

The Viking mission, involving two landers named Viking 1, landed on July 20, 1976, and Viking 2, landed on September 3, 1976.

Both were equipped with an array of instruments, including a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer, X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, seismometer, meteorology instrument, and stereo color cameras.

These instruments enabled the exploration of potential signs of life and the analysis of the physical and magnetic attributes of the soil and atmosphere.

Schulze-Makuch described the outcomes as “perplexing” in a BigThink op-ed, explaining that while one test returned positive, another displayed negative results in terms of gas exchange. Additionally, trace amounts of chlorinated organics were detected.

In a 2007 study, the astronomy professor suggested that Martian life could have hydrogen peroxide in their cells.

He said: “This adaptation would have the particular advantages in the Martian environment of providing a low freezing point, a source of oxygen and hygroscopicity.

“If we assume that indigenous Martian life might have adapted to its environment by incorporating hydrogen peroxide into its cells, this could explain the Viking results.

“If the Martian cells contained hydrogen peroxide, that would have killed them.

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“Moreover, it would have caused the hydrogen peroxide to react with any organic molecules in the vicinity to form large amounts of carbon dioxide — which is exactly what the instrument detected.”

Schulze-Makuch continued: “However, subsequent missions have verified the presence of native organic compounds on Mars, although in a chlorinated form.

“Life on Mars could have adapted to the arid environment by existing within salt rocks and absorbing water directly from the atmosphere.

“The Viking experiments, which involved adding water to soil samples, might have overwhelmed these potential microbes, leading to their demise.”

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