Mars Life? NASA Viking Probes Found Martian Microbes Decades Ago, New Study Suggests

Is there life on Mars after all?

A provocative new study concludes that the twin robotic probes NASA put on Mars in 1976 may have detected signs of "microbial life" on the Red Planet. At the time, researchers concluded that the Viking 1 and 2 probes had detected no such signs--and the same is true of subsequent probes, landers, and rovers sent to Mars, according to Popular Science.

The study involved an analysis of data collected by the so-called "labeled release" apparatus aboard the landers. One of three onboard life-seeking devices, the LR apparatus mixed samples of Mars soil with water and a nutrient solution containing radioactive carbon atoms. The idea was that any microbes in the soil would metabolize the nutrient and release carbon dioxide or methane gas--which would then be detected.

"The minute the nutrients were mixed with the soil sample, you got something like 10,000 counts" of radioactive molecules--a huge spike from the 50 or 60 counts that constituted the natural background radiation on Mars, study co-author Joseph Miller, associate professor of cell and neurobiology at the University of Southern California, told National Geographic. But other experiments on the landers were not backed up by other life-detecting experiements on the landers, according to NatGeo.

So most scientists dismissed the idea that Martian life had been detected.

But using sophisticated mathematical techniques, Miller and his co-authors found evidence that the LR apparatus had detected lifer. Still, according to NatGeo, the researchers conceded that their study isn't enough to prove there's life on Mars. Miller told the magazine he didn't expect people to be convinced of Martian life until they could see a video of Martian microbes in a petri dish.

"But for some reason, NASA has never flown a microscope that would let you do something like that," he said.

What does NASA say about the new study? "There is still enough uncertainty with our knowledge of Mars that more research is required to resolve the question of whether there ever was or is life on Mars," an agency spokesman told The Huffington Post in an email. "The exploration of Mars is about to experience a leap in capability with the arrival in August on the Martian surface of NASA’s Curiosity Rover. One instrument on Curiosity is designed to discover the nature of oxidants in the Martian soil which will shed light on the Viking results."

We can't wait!


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