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New Study Suggests Mars Viking Robots Found Life

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the it's-alive-alive dept.

Mars 172

techfun89 writes "New analysis of data, now 36 years old, from the Viking robots, suggests that NASA had found life on Mars. This conclusion was published by an international team of mathematicians and scientists this week. The Labeled Release experiment looked for signs of microbial metabolism in soil samples in 1976. The general thinking was that the experiment had found geological not biological activity. However, the new study approached things differently. Researchers broke the data into sets of numbers and analyzed the results for complexity. What they found were close correlations between the Viking results' complexity and those of terrestrial biological data sets. Based on this they concluded that the Viking results were more biological in nature than just geological processes."

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172 comments

There are Viking Robots on Mars? (5, Funny)

Rhaban (987410) | more than 2 years ago | (#39671771)

I didn't even know vikings had robots here on earth!

Re:There are Viking Robots on Mars? (5, Funny)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 2 years ago | (#39671823)

There are Viking Robots on Mars?

Nobody else could fight the zombie pirates.

Except the dinosaur ninja, but nobody could find them.

Re:There are Viking Robots on Mars? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39672335)

Come on, the math disproved the dinosaur ninja "theory" years ago.
That's why nobody can find them. They're a myth.

Re:There are Viking Robots on Mars? (2)

Gilmoure (18428) | more than 2 years ago | (#39673277)

And then there's the alien monkeys. Man, I hate alien monkeys.

Re:There are Viking Robots on Mars? (1)

kav2k (1545689) | more than 2 years ago | (#39671855)

Yeah, the brain needs several tries to set up the proper mental image with this headline.
Myself, I pictured The Lost Vikings among others..

Re:There are Viking Robots on Mars? (1)

yvesdandoy (44789) | more than 2 years ago | (#39671909)

Try this

www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTwq1_9VH68

Re:There are Viking Robots on Mars? (1)

Moryath (553296) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672201)

More like this [gocomics.com] .

Damnit, I miss Bill Watterson's comics.

Re:There are Viking Robots on Mars? (1)

OshMan (1246516) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672563)

Nobody ever expects the viking robots until its too late. That's the whole point of them.

Re:There are Viking Robots on Mars? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39672571)

Well, there are Viking mechs
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAFXayH1bpY

Re:There are Viking Robots on Mars? (2)

SolusSD (680489) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672721)

This is the best comment I've read on slashdot in years. I don't know if that's a good thing, or just sad.

Waiting for the same old comments (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39671773)

Naysayers "debunking" in 3.. 2.. 1..

Re:Waiting for the same old comments (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39672013)

Remember the face on Mars? HaHa

Re:Waiting for the same old comments (5, Insightful)

Defenestrar (1773808) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672097)

You should have been counting up, the article already contains the most relevant counter-point: "Critics counter that the method has not yet been proven effective for differentiating between biological and non-biological processes on Earth so it's premature to draw any conclusions."

Of course, the writer of the article should have read the original paper and at least pointed out the control scheme utilized within the mathematical analysis.

When a number of terrestrial time series, known to be biological or non-biological, were added to the set of LR experiments, the biological time series automatically sorted with the LR active experiments, and the non-biological time series sorted with the LR controls, forming two distinct clusters on the basis of the complexity variables.

Finally, one should ask themselves if they trust a bunch of mathematicians who turn out phrases like: "In mathematical terms, the Euclidean distance between the centroids of the two clusters was significantly larger than the intra-cluster distances between any members of either cluster." Any English major could tell you what kind of cluster that sentence is! If that's the way they write, one has to wonder about their expertise in detecting live... it takes one to know one after all. ;)

Re:Waiting for the same old comments (5, Informative)

The Dancing Panda (1321121) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672155)

"In mathematical terms, the Euclidean distance between the centroids of the two clusters was significantly larger than the intra-cluster distances between any members of either cluster." Any English major could tell you what kind of cluster that sentence is!

This sentence makes perfect sense. They were a little redundant when saying "intra-cluster distances between any members of either cluster", where they could have just said "intra-cluster distances".

Re:Waiting for the same old comments (1, Interesting)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672663)

"In mathematical terms, the Euclidean distance between the centroids of the two clusters was significantly larger than the intra-cluster distances between any members of either cluster." Any English major could tell you what kind of cluster that sentence is!

This sentence makes perfect sense. They were a little redundant when saying "intra-cluster distances between any members of either cluster", where they could have just said "intra-cluster distances".

No. It is ambiguous. Does that mean the distances from the cluster members to the centroid of the cluster, or does that mean the distance from one cluster member to another? Does that apply to only one cluster, or to both?

Re:Waiting for the same old comments (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39673079)

Q: "apply to one cluster, or to both?"

A: "any members of either cluster."

Re:Waiting for the same old comments (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39673817)

It's not ambiguous at all. Re-read, and both your questions are answered satisfactorily.

Re:Waiting for the same old comments (3, Insightful)

crazyjj (2598719) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672347)

People are always more open to believe what they *want* to believe than anything that contradicts, or even tempers, what they want to believe. And "Possible life detected on Mars" gets a lot more PR and grant money than "Inconclusive results allow for possible model in which life may possibly exist on Mars, but critics point to flaws."

Re:Waiting for the same old comments (4, Informative)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672415)

The sentence is fine, and makes perfect sense if you know what cluster analysis is. An English major, furthermore, would perhaps have used "detecting life" and some proper ellipses instead of "detecting live". :P

Re:Waiting for the same old comments (1)

Defenestrar (1773808) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672943)

Oh no! A typo! I'll have to take the colonel's way out. [youtube.com]

On another note, in light of the comments thus far, it appears that the winking-face emoticon doesn't mean what I think it means.

Re:Waiting for the same old comments (3, Insightful)

martas (1439879) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672997)

English majors have no business judging the quality of technical writing, as they are not remotely qualified to do so. The top priority in technical writing is technical clarity, which trumps everything else. That's not to say that there is no room for optimizing ease of parsing and general aesthetics -- on the contrary, good style for readability is important. But especially when describing the specifics of experimental or analysis methodology, which was the purpose of the sentence you cited, it is well worth ignoring all the good writing guidelines your high school writing professor taught you for the sake of precision, and to avoid any possible ambiguity.

Re:Waiting for the same old comments (3, Insightful)

Tom (822) | more than 2 years ago | (#39673789)

one should ask themselves if they trust a bunch of mathematicians who turn out phrases like

I'd rather trust a mathematician who has trouble explaining himself clearly to non-mathematicians, but knows his field and his craft, than one who writes poetry during lunchbreak, but whose record in his field is spotty.

Viking, eh? (1)

schroedingers_hat (2449186) | more than 2 years ago | (#39671775)

I hope they plundered and/or ravished the soil samples.

And true or not-- it provides lube (5, Interesting)

way2trivial (601132) | more than 2 years ago | (#39671793)

to loosen up a few dollars to the space program.

Re:And true or not-- it provides lube (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39671973)

The space program needs some lube? I know just the thing [astroglide.com] . [NSFW}

Re:And true or not-- it provides lube (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39672437)

Eh, goatse guy uses crisco. You can't really argue with the results.

Re:And true or not-- it provides lube (1, Insightful)

crazyjj (2598719) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672355)

NASA is too busy these days arguing about climate change and Muslim outreach to bother with anything as mundane as a space program.

Recovery (2, Insightful)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672507)

Seems to me that it is recovering from eight years of misdirection. The former administration's micromanagement made a huge mess.

Re:Recovery (2, Insightful)

jesseck (942036) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672557)

Seems to me that it is recovering from eight years of misdirection. The former administration's micromanagement made a huge mess.

Huh? So the former administration's micromanagement told NASA to cause climate change and ignore Muslims?

Re:Recovery (2)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 2 years ago | (#39673369)

No, they screwed up confidence in NASA science by using censorship, messed up the review process for manned space flight, and pushed for underbidding for JWST leaving an unnecessary competition between science missions. NASA needs to recover now by strongly backing its people such as Jim Hansen, enforcing fiscal discipline in bidding so that budget requests can be realistic, and sadly, go back to the drawing board on heavy lift. They were not just eight wasted years, they were eight years of retrograde motion.

Total Recall (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39671803)

Cool, there will be chicks with three boobs soon :D :D

Re:Total Recall (2)

julesh (229690) | more than 2 years ago | (#39671891)

Cool, there will be chicks with three boobs soon :D :D

Yes, but unfortunately they'll look like they're made from plastic.

Re:Total Recall (5, Funny)

Rhaban (987410) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672095)

Cool, there will be chicks with three boobs soon :D :D

Yes, but unfortunately they'll look like they're made from plastic.

So, no different than most two-boobed chicks here?

two-boobed chicks? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39672529)

two-boobed chicks [google.com] !

Re:Total Recall (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39672817)

Cool, there will be chicks with three boobs soon :D :D

Yes, but unfortunately they'll look like they're made from plastic.

So, no different than most two-boobed chicks here?

Much more than a mouthful is kinda wasted...

Re:Total Recall (1)

hackula (2596247) | more than 2 years ago | (#39671917)

I believe it should be "boob(s)"

Re:Total Recall (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39672345)

No, it shouldn't.

Whats up with the "mars trees"? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39671819)

i. e. http://mmmgroup2.altervista.org/e-trees.html [altervista.org] While I guess that these are just "dendritic structures", I wonder if there were later any better close-ups of them done by the orbiting satellites?

Re:Whats up with the "mars trees"? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39671951)

LMGTFY: http://www.space.com/7775-strange-mars-photo-includes-tantalizing-tree-illusion.html

Re:Whats up with the "mars trees"? (1)

Kotoku (1531373) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672057)

i. e. http://mmmgroup2.altervista.org/e-trees.html [altervista.org] While I guess that these are just "dendritic structures", I wonder if there were later any better close-ups of them done by the orbiting satellites?

Dry Ice, formations made by super heated sand getting frozen.

http://discovermagazine.com/2001/nov/breakghost [discovermagazine.com]

"Complexity"? (1)

Empiric (675968) | more than 2 years ago | (#39671827)

Somehow, I'm guessing that since this isn't a discussion of ID, we won't be hearing that "complexity" is meaningless and undefinable...

But, out of curiosity, what is the metric of complexity here? The article seems to only give synonyms, like "complicated".

Re:"Complexity"? (5, Informative)

julesh (229690) | more than 2 years ago | (#39671857)

Paper is available for open access here: http://ijass.org/On_line/admin/files/2)(014-026)11-030.pdf [ijass.org]

Haven't read it yet, but they seem to have analysed with multiple definitions of complexity.

Abstract (5, Informative)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672081)

Complexity Analysis of the Viking Labeled Release Experiments

Giorgio Bianciardi, Joseph D. Miller, Patricia Ann Straat and Gilbert V. Levin

The only extraterrestrial life detection experiments ever conducted were the three which were components of the 1976 Viking Mission to Mars. Of these, only the Labeled Release experiment obtained a clearly positive response. In this experiment 14 C radiolabeled nutrient was added to the Mars soil samples. Active soils exhibited rapid, substantial gas release. The gas was probably CO2 and, possibly, other radiocarbon-containing gases. We have applied complexity analysis to the Viking LR data. Measures of mathematical complexity permit deep analysis of data structure along continua including signal vs. noise, entropy vs.negentropy, periodicity vs. aperiodicity, order vs. disorder etc. We have employed seven complexity variables, all derived from LR data, to show that Viking LR active responses can be distinguished from controls via cluster analysis and other multivariate techniques. Furthermore, Martian LR active response data cluster with known biological time series while the control data cluster with purely physical measures. We conclude that the complexity pattern seen in active experiments strongly suggests biology while the different pattern in the control responses is more likely to be non-biological. Control responses that exhibit relatively low initial order rapidly devolve into near-random noise, while the active experiments exhibit higher initial order which decays only slowly. This suggests a robust biological response. These analyses support the interpretation that the Viking LR experiment did detect extant microbial life on Mars.

Re:"Complexity"? (1)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672453)

THANK you for that link. I'll try to read the thing this afternoon. I want to find out which metrics they ended up using!

Re:"Complexity"? (1)

Deus.1.01 (946808) | more than 2 years ago | (#39671885)

methinks you are thinking of "irreducible complexity".

As for metric of complexity...I'd guess results in which normal erosion and the like can't account for.

Re:"Complexity"? (1)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672449)

Yeah, it's that "metric of complexity" which is the sticking point. There are a few which turn out to be useful (such as various definitions of fractal dimension, and multi-scale entropy). The thing is, the metrics never care where the numbers came from, so "accounting for erosion" isn't a factor at all. There are no "erosion numbers" and "footprint numbers" and "something-pooped-here" numbers. I'm sure that "2 girls 1 cup" would be off the charts for all of those metrics.

Re:"Complexity"? (1)

crazyjj (2598719) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672375)

we won't be hearing that "complexity" is meaningless and undefinable

It's that thing just above "incomplexity" of course.

To boldly stay away (1, Informative)

arth1 (260657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39671839)

Time to invoke the prime directive and leave it alone.

Seriously, if this were true, it means we should restrict visits to Mars. Not only to have a chance to study evolving life over the next aeons, but also so we won't drag back something.
.

Re:To boldly stay away (1)

MrMickS (568778) | more than 2 years ago | (#39671903)

No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable.

Re:To boldly stay away (5, Informative)

FunkDup (995643) | more than 2 years ago | (#39671913)

If there's life on Mars, it probably originated here [technologyreview.com]

Their results contain a number of surprises. First, they calculate that almost as much ejecta would have ended up on Europa as on the Moon: around 10^8 individual Earth rocks in some scenarios. That's because the huge gravitational field around Jupiter acts as a sink for rocks, which then get swept up by the Jovian moons as they orbit. But perhaps most surprising is the amount that makes its way across interstellar space. Last year, we looked at calculations suggesting that more Earth ejecta must end up in interstellar space than all the other planets combined.

Re:To boldly stay away (2)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672039)

Bullshit, everyone knows that life on Earth was seeded by The Preservers [wikipedia.org] .

Re:To boldly stay away (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 2 years ago | (#39671935)

Not really. Bringing it back would allow closer study. It is nothing that hasn't landed here before owing to martian meteors, but an isolated sample could be checked for divergence from Earth life and give a check on how life disperses in the solar system.

Re:To boldly stay away (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672487)

Not really. Bringing it back would allow closer study. It is nothing that hasn't landed here before owing to martian meteors, but an isolated sample could be checked for divergence from Earth life and give a check on how life disperses in the solar system.

Of course, bacteria arriving via a martian meteor would be subject to extremely high temperatures and effectively sterilized before impact. Coming back in via a capsule of some sort could pose a number of risks to various indigenous species on earth. It would make much more sense, and be a lot more cost effective to send the equipment to mars and run whatever tests are needed there, versus designing a craft to transport a collection vehicle that can then launch from the surface and return home.

Re:To boldly stay away (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 2 years ago | (#39673463)

You are aware that meteors land cold right? Thermal conductivity does not permit the heating you are proposing. Sample return from the Moon proved very valuable. I'd expect the same from Mars.

Re:To boldly stay away (2)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | more than 2 years ago | (#39673599)

You are aware that meteors land cold right? Thermal conductivity does not permit the heating you are proposing. Sample return from the Moon proved very valuable. I'd expect the same from Mars.

They may land cold, but they sure get hot as they go through the atmosphere, where most of them burn up before ever reaching ground. Look at it this way, the space shuttle also landed "cold" but as we we tragically found out, it got pretty hot before the actual landing.

Re:To boldly stay away (4, Informative)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 2 years ago | (#39673933)

They may land cold, but they sure get hot as they go through the atmosphere, where most of them burn up before ever reaching ground. Look at it this way, the space shuttle also landed "cold" but as we we tragically found out, it got pretty hot before the actual landing.

Yes and those are small. A large meteor will have some of its surface ablated, but most of the meteor, particularly the interior, will be cool. There simply isn't enough time as the meteor falls for the heat to spread. That which survives to the ground will be cool enough to touch in most cases.

Similarly, in a normal space shuttle re-entry only the leading surface (the ceramic as in stone tiles) was heated, while the rest of the shuttle remained a comfortable temperature. It was only when that leading surface was compromised and the pressure-heated air was able to enter the interior structure which was fragile that it caused a problem.

So unless the meteor is a ceramic shell with a fragile interior, this isn't a problem.

Re:To boldly stay away (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672027)

Time to invoke the prime directive and leave it alone.

Seriously, if this were true, it means we should restrict visits to Mars. Not only to have a chance to study evolving life over the next aeons, but also so we won't drag back something. .

Yeah, like we left the Sandwich Islands alone after Cook visited, or the Americas after Columbus.

It's Manifest Destiny man, sure, we'll get a little bloody fighting the natives, but Mars is prime dirt, ripe for the taking - at least it is compared to Venus, Mercury or the moons of Jupiter.

Longer term, I think Venus is the more attractive terraforming target - more solar energy and atmosphere to work with, it's (relatively) easy to make a sun-shade, and we should be able to seed some extremophiles on Venus and eventually, over the next aeons, rework the atmospheric chemistry to something more habitable.

Re:To boldly stay away (1)

runeghost (2509522) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672353)

We need to hurry up and get astronauts to Mars to find and sample its native life (if any) Real Soon. As technology continues to advance, it's only a matter of time (maybe a century, give or take) before an individual or small group is able to get a payload to Mars. Once we hit that point, it won't be long before somebody drops a primitive terraforming payload onto Mars, which will forever compromise the search for native Martian life.

Re:To boldly stay away (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672889)

Mars almost certainly can't be terraformed. It's very tiny compared to Earth (and Venus) - much more so than most people realize. It lacks the gravity to hold any significant atmosphere, and lacks the sunlight most terrestrial life needs.

Venus is likely a much better prospect for terraforming. Unfortunately, Venus is also a very inhospitable prospect to visit in its current state.

Cue good old Carl ... (4, Insightful)

giorgist (1208992) | more than 2 years ago | (#39671883)

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"

So although the data is amazing we need correlation, cross referencing, independent data gathering and ... well a local saying hello der ...

Re:Cue good old Carl ... (1)

Covalent (1001277) | more than 2 years ago | (#39671929)

Agreed. The article says we should send up a microscope and watch the bacteria move. It is this kind of evidence that will be required to substantiate such a claim.

That said, I don't think the soon-to-land Curiosity has a "microscope" of this sort. Has one ever been sent to Mars?

Re:Cue good old Carl ... (4, Informative)

Squidlips (1206004) | more than 2 years ago | (#39673547)

No it does not have this, and I don't think one will fly until there is firmer evidence for microbial life. However it has a vastly imporved micro imager...in color no less. The test pictures from it are pretty spectacular (compared to Opportunity's): http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2010-384#4 [nasa.gov]

Re:Cue good old Carl ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39672067)

Yeah, no crap. What's your point?
 
Can Slashdot finally move beyond The Science Channel version of science and get into some serious discussions that aren't filled with memes and observations done on the 8th grade level?

Full Paper Link (5, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 2 years ago | (#39671905)

A little bit of googling led me to a PDF of the full published paper [ijass.org] if anyone's interested.

Life, or traces of life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39671923)

So, did they find life, as in actually living cells, or traces of life long gone?

Re:Life, or traces of life? (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672049)

The experiment was set to detect biological activity. The results were ambiguous with some physical explanations not excluded at the time of the original analysis.

NASA ignored Viking experimental protocols (5, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672005)

Each Viking Lander had 3 biological experiments, for a total of 6.

I worked on Viking (but not on the biological experiments), and before the mission landed I received a bunch of NASA PR type hype, including the protocols for the biological experiments. These were each (at a very high level) of the same form -

- collect a soil sample
- add something to it (such as water or nutrients)
- see what happens

and, as a control, repeat this with another sample after "sterilizing" it (by heating it).

At the one bit level, a successful biological result would be something positive happens to the active sample, the same something doesn't happen to the control.

The biological experimental protocols did not mention the mass spectrometer at all.

In the actual case, each biological experiment (all 6) returned a positive result for biology "at the one bit level." The Labeled Release (LR) experiment was more or less what they were expecting, the other 2 experiments (in each case) did something, just not what was expected. In every case, the control runs had a much smaller or no reaction.

I, following this, actually expected the Viking project to announce that life had probably been found, with positive (if not fully understood) results from the 6 biological trials. Instead, they announced a negative result, based on not finding organic matter with the mass spectrometer. The conclusion was that the positive results were due to some (unknown, and still unknown) inorganic chemistry of the surface, which went over like a wet balloon.

To this day, I feel this was a violation of the pre-launch protocols for the biological experiments. If the mass spectrometer trumped all, why fly the biologicals? If the biological experiments were worth doing, why were they not worth investigating further? Gilbert Levin (the Labeled Release experiment PI), for example, has always felt that the LR experiment detected biology [spherix.com] . Is that not worthy of a followup ?

Instead, this was announced in such a fashion as to make it as uninteresting as possible and the Mars science budget was cut to the point that, in the early 1980's, it was almost impossible for a student to get a job in the field. The JPL Mars crew was broken up, let go or reassigned (I was at JPL at the time, I saw it happen). Basically, a generation was lost (Viking Lander 1 died, from a lack of funding, in 1982; the next successful US mission to Mars was 1997).

Because of the way this was handled, this problem has never been investigated further on Mars. We have had successful 4 lander / rovers since then, but no biological tests whatsoever. I must say that, since then, I have not had a lot of respect for the "conventional wisdom" of the Mars science community. In my book, this was blown, and blown badly, with serious damage to the course of science.

Re:NASA ignored Viking experimental protocols (4, Interesting)

Maow (620678) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672159)

Each Viking Lander had 3 biological experiments, for a total of 6.

I worked on Viking (but not on the biological experiments), and before the mission landed I received a bunch of NASA PR type hype, including the protocols for the biological experiments. These were each (at a very high level) of the same form -

- collect a soil sample
- add something to it (such as water or nutrients)
- see what happens

and, as a control, repeat this with another sample after "sterilizing" it (by heating it).

I recall your post from the last time a meta-analysis was performed concluding 75%, then ~90% likelihood of life found on Mars by Viking.

This is the 3rd meta-analysis to conclude the same thing, yet even the science shows like CBC's Quirks & Quarks haven't addressed the issue.

I find it very frustrating that possibly the most significant discovery in history has been virtually ignored.

Re:NASA ignored Viking experimental protocols (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39672207)

Lif was found and the GOVERNMENT is hiding it from us "for our own safety"(TM)

Re:NASA ignored Viking experimental protocols (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39672683)

Kill yourself, internet libertarian.

Re:NASA ignored Viking experimental protocols (3, Insightful)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672543)

Not to argue the science involved, but wouldn't the act of heating the soil to sterilize it effectively change the chemistry, too? For instance, if the soil contained frozen gases or water, those could have reacted in the "biological tests" but, once heated, they would not be present in the control tests. In the 70s it was thought that there wasn't water on mars, so would the tests have been designed to account for water?

Re:NASA ignored Viking experimental protocols (5, Informative)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672829)

Not to argue the science involved, but wouldn't the act of heating the soil to sterilize it effectively change the chemistry, too? For instance, if the soil contained frozen gases or water, those could have reacted in the "biological tests" but, once heated, they would not be present in the control tests. In the 70s it was thought that there wasn't water on mars, so would the tests have been designed to account for water?

It was indeed the argument, after the fact, that the unknown surface chemistry was changed by heat.

It is a mistake to think that in the '70s it was thought that there was no water on Mars. By the time of Viking, with Valles Marineris and other channels, it seemed likely that there was a substantial amount, at least in the past. Also, there was even overnight "snow" (frost, really) at the Viking 2 site, and IIRC they concluded that that was likely water. The biological tests included "wet" and "dry" experiments, as some thought that water might be poisonous to any surface life used to its absence.

On Mars, the air is very thin, so the surface can be at +20 C, while 1 meter up a thermometer registers -20 C. The Viking met data always recorded very cold temperatures, but orbiter IR data indicated that the surface at the landers actually did get above freezing during the day. The Viking 1 and 2 surface pressure was above the triple point of water, at least some of the time, so liquid water would be stable on the surface, at least on a warm afternoon in the right time of year.

Re:NASA ignored Viking experimental protocols (1)

kilfarsnar (561956) | more than 2 years ago | (#39673469)

To this day, I feel this was a violation of the pre-launch protocols for the biological experiments. If the mass spectrometer trumped all, why fly the biologicals? If the biological experiments were worth doing, why were they not worth investigating further? Gilbert Levin (the Labeled Release experiment PI), for example, has always felt that the LR experiment detected biology [spherix.com] . Is that not worthy of a followup ?

Instead, this was announced in such a fashion as to make it as uninteresting as possible and the Mars science budget was cut to the point that, in the early 1980's, it was almost impossible for a student to get a job in the field. The JPL Mars crew was broken up, let go or reassigned (I was at JPL at the time, I saw it happen). Basically, a generation was lost (Viking Lander 1 died, from a lack of funding, in 1982; the next successful US mission to Mars was 1997).

Because of the way this was handled, this problem has never been investigated further on Mars. We have had successful 4 lander / rovers since then, but no biological tests whatsoever. I must say that, since then, I have not had a lot of respect for the "conventional wisdom" of the Mars science community. In my book, this was blown, and blown badly, with serious damage to the course of science.

This a very interesting account. Do you have any opinion as to why the findings were presented the way they were?

Re:NASA ignored Viking experimental protocols (4, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#39673829)

The biological experimental protocols did not mention the mass spectrometer at all.

That's pretty much unsurprising. I bet if you go back and look you'll find they didn't mention the weather instruments or the cameras either. Each set of instruments is going to have it's own protocols.
 

To this day, I feel this was a violation of the pre-launch protocols for the biological experiments. If the mass spectrometer trumped all, why fly the biologicals?

Because NASA was following basic scientific procedures and guarding against false positives. This was triply important for Viking when they were performing complex chemical experiments (the biological suite) with pretty much zero knowledge of the soil chemistry. There was no way of knowing in advance whether or not something in the soil might cause a false positive, so the mass spectrometer served to determine the soil chemistry in order to analyze the results of the biological experiments.
 

Because of the way this was handled, this problem has never been investigated further on Mars. We have had successful 4 lander / rovers since then, but no biological tests whatsoever.

That's because they've changed the strategy for looking for life - away from "pin the tail on the donkey" (blind stabs in the dark like Viking) and towards more basic chemical research. Biological experiments are sexy, but they're meaningless without the proper foundation of knowledge to design them and to interpret their results.
 
(And seriously, have you been living in a cave the three plus decades? This is all pretty much common knowledge if you've been following Mars exploration for the last fifteen odd years rather than nursing a thirty year old grudge.)

Re:NASA ignored Viking experimental protocols (1)

TheDarkMaster (1292526) | more than 2 years ago | (#39673909)

Thanks, big thanks for sharing this info.

So, it would seem.. (0, Offtopic)

sfhock (1308629) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672103)

that Newt Gingrich was secretly trying to be first to secure the Martian vote... well played, sir...

Finding signs of life? (1)

markz0r (1718746) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672157)

I think there is a big difference between finding life and finding signs of life.

Re:Finding signs of life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39672531)

I think there is a big difference between finding life and finding signs of life.

Signs of life does not require that the life is still alive.

Maybe if they bothered to send a decent microscope (3, Interesting)

backslashdot (95548) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672175)

They STILL have not sent a decent microscope .. you know of the kind any high school biology lab would have .. to Mars. And the next mission doesn't have one scheduled either. The previous mission (this decade) they did send a microscope but its magnification would not even have showed bacteria .. even tiny pollen type grains. And of course they didn't send any staining chemicals either.

Re:Maybe if they bothered to send a decent microsc (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39672881)

And 'they' probably won't.

Look, reality is that religious fundamentalists have a tremendous amount of power in the U.S. - especially in the military, which has considerable input at NASA - and as soon as life is incontrovertibly proven to exist on another astronomical body, they will be forced into a crushing retreat on several fronts.

Finding life anywhere else in the universe will make the heliocentric/geocentric battles look like a fart in a hurricane.

Re:Maybe if they bothered to send a decent microsc (1)

Squidlips (1206004) | more than 2 years ago | (#39673119)

Actually this post is not has wacked as it would first appear. David Darling accuses Guillermo Gonzalez of letting his theological extremism color his scientific studies to make life appear unlikely outside of Earth. Gonzalez, Guillermo; Brownlee, Donald; Ward, Peter (2001). "The Galactic Habitable Zone: Galactic Chemical Evolution". Icarus 152: 185–200. arXiv:astro-ph/0103165. Bibcode 2001Icar..152..185G. doi:10.1006/icar.2001.6617.

Re:Maybe if they bothered to send a decent microsc (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39673743)

As a lifelong Christian attending a moderately fundamentalist church, I have yet to hear _anyone_ claim that alien life is non-biblical. I'd note that probably the most famous Christian author of the last century (C.S. Lewis) wrote a science fiction novel featuring life on Mars, and the Bible specifically talks about non-earthly life (angels, etc.) They aren't the same thing as martian microbes, sure, but it's a ....precedent. I can tell you that absolutely nothing in the book could be construed as saying "life was only created on Earth."

Exploring our universe is top priority (2)

concealment (2447304) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672237)

I am glad for this study and others. We should be exploring the stars instead of trying to pound square pegs into round holes here at home, which is what politics has become.

Space exploration has never been correctly marketed. I think we should claim that we're going to explore so many planets that we'll have one for social group. A planet for liberals, a planet for conservatives. Planet legal dope. And a planet where there are no Wal-marts.

You have to get the consumers excited about this.

Bad News (4, Insightful)

dpilot (134227) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672305)

Think "Drake Equation". Some time back, someone was referencing the Drake Equation, saying that we'd better hope that the "highly filtering / most likely to fail" hurdles to intelligent life were early ones that we'd already passed. Otherwise they might well still be ahead of us.

So "early hurdles" are in our favor, meaning we've already passed them, while "late hurdles" are against us, meaning we have yet to pass.

Things we think we know...

If interstellar-capable life arises, it should be capable of covering the galaxy within a few million years - on a timescale of billions of years.

We haven't been contacted - yet. (Depending on the material your hat is made of, some would assert that the government has been suppressing the information that we have made contact.)

Therefore the Drake Equation (or rather, think "Drake Test") hasn't been successfully negotiated in the past million years or so. It appears that "early hurdles" + "late hurdles" have been impossible, at least so far.

There is no known life elsewhere in the solar system so far, making those "early hurdles" look hard, leaving some hope that the "late hurdles" might not be so bad.

But now if there is indeed life on Mars, perhaps those "early hurdles" aren't so hard - maybe the "late hurdles" - the ones we have yet to pass - are in fact the harder ones. Of course to put it into perspective, the evidence of life on Mars is not conclusive, and it's not tall, golden-eyed Martians.

And of course it's possible that any species that passes the "late hurdles" also comes up with some concept like the "Prime Directive", meaning that they will deliberately hide their presence from us. We have at least conceived of the concept of a "Prime Directive", so perhaps that would be the most comforting interpretation.

Not necessarily (4, Interesting)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672899)

The truth is, we have absolutely no idea and the "Drake test" has too many unknowns to be of any use.

My own suspicion, which is at least supported by events so far, is that a single inhabitable planet does not contain sufficient energy resources to allow any intelligent form of life any significant way of getting off-planet. The energy consumption needed to get to a technological civilisation may be such that by the time the necessary engineering skills exists, an energy crisis has been reached the outcome of which is either population collapse or evolution to a state more like an ant community than anything else.

Re:Bad News (1)

kilfarsnar (561956) | more than 2 years ago | (#39673437)

I think there are early and late hurdles. We have overcome some, but mankind has yet to learn how to manage its resources in an equitable and sustainable manner. We often have trouble being proactive, and only change in response to crises. It's not hard to imagine that one day we will encounter a crisis that we cannot overcome, that prudent planning might have avoided.

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Toshi26 (2611287) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672457)

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It's life Jim... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39672505)

but not as we know it, not as we know it captain.

Study Suggests Mars Techno Viking Found Life... (1)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672519)

Unfortunately Techno Viking [youtube.com] stomped all said life to death in a celebratory dance.

Returning samples (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672561)

If this is true we should start designing a rocket that can return samples from Mars.

The case is building... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39672691)

So that's now two or three different studies which all suggest it found life.

Indirect indications (1)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672735)

I don't believe in this as an indication of life on Mars.

To me it looks like misunderstood chemistry. There is an oops somewhere. That is my bet.

Perchlorates (3, Insightful)

Ken_g6 (775014) | more than 2 years ago | (#39672787)

Recall that more recent missions have analyzed the soil of Mars, and have found "interesting" chemicals like perchlorates. Chemicals which might mimic the signature of life in this experiment. We need to run a test, on Earth, using the best lifeless analogue to Martian soil we can come up with, including perchlorates, and see if the results match.

Re:Perchlorates (3, Informative)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#39673159)

Been done (many times, in fact), and the results are inconclusive. We don't really know what's in the soil, so it's hard to be certain that results which mimic (or not) the Viking results are actually due to chemistry on Mars, or wishful thinking on Earth.

By the way, perchlorates may have destroyed any organics in the soil [wired.com] in the heating required to analyze it in the Viking mass spectrometer, so some think that the perchlorates are a reason to rethink the earlier negative conclusions.

Re:Perchlorates (1)

Squidlips (1206004) | more than 2 years ago | (#39673455)

But aren't perchlorates fairly toxic to life to begin with making life on the surface highly unlikely (there are other reasons also, of course,...). Subsurface is a different story...

Re:Perchlorates (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#39673975)

Toxic to you, maybe. But, you probably aren't Martian. Who knows with "them."

I believe that the argument is that the perchlorates are right at the surface (due to UV) and life could be safely residing a mm or so below, in the soil or rocks.

Hopefully JPL's Orgasmatron will answer this.... (1)

Squidlips (1206004) | more than 2 years ago | (#39673291)

When JPL's Curiousity safely lands (hopefully) in August, these questions will be put to rest.... If EDL is successful and the instruments check out, it will be an incredible tool, laser spectrometer, mass spectrometer, gas chromatagraph, etc. For a geologist, it is truly an interplanetary orgasmatron....

Gobbledigook translation: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39673435)

the grand translation seems to be:

We really don't know what we found or what it means. There are several theories.

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