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Viking Mars Mission Might Have Missed Life

Hemos posted more than 7 years ago | from the head-turned-the-wrong-way dept.

136

Johan Louwers writes "The Viking mars mission in 1976 might have missed signs of life due to not completely working analysis equipment. GC-MS on the Viking 1976 Mars missions did not detect organic molecules on the Martian surface, even those expected from meteorite bombardment. This result suggested that the Martian regolith might hold a potent oxidant that converts all organic molecules to carbon dioxide rapidly relative to the rate at which they arrive. This conclusion is influencing the design of Mars missions. We reexamine this conclusion in light of what is known about the oxidation of organic compounds generally and the nature of organics likely to come to Mars via meteorite."

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Sign of the times. (4, Funny)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545560)

Ask anyone who was around in 1976, they probably wouldn't count that year as the time of their life in which they were the most lucid and observant of their surroundings.

Re:Sign of the times. (4, Funny)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545710)

In 1976, I spent most of my lucid time observing my surroundings, then, in 77, I learned to walk to see something else.

Re:Sign of the times. (1)

paganizer (566360) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546858)

That was the year I went to California for music; saw Pink Floyd in anaheim, but that might have been '77. Pretty Colors.
Also saw The Who, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, AC/DC that year. and a bunch of others. the only one I was actually in a condition to remember is the Black Sabbath concert, and I just have some hazy memories.
So, yeah, If I had been shot to mars (and i'm not saying I wasn't, it sounds possible) I would possibly have messed up some tests myself.

Re:Sign of the times. (1)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546940)

I remember Pink Floyd in '77 but The Who was in '76. But again, things were a little foggy and I think I was in Texas for The Who. Is it just me or was there more fog back then?

Re:Sign of the times. (1)

rts008 (812749) | more than 7 years ago | (#16548580)

Best I can remember, I think it was foggier back the- at least for me!
(graduated HIGH school in '76)

Re:Sign of the times. (1)

kclittle (625128) | more than 7 years ago | (#16549494)

Is it just me or was there more fog back then?

That was fog permeating my entire dorm? Always wondered what that was. But, it was strangely pleasant...
Bezerkly '76

GNAA claims Martian Planet (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16545564)

All hail the GNAA

missed? (4, Funny)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545576)

Viking Mars Mission Might Have Missed Life
Damn. Well, let's get the next one ready. We'll nail the little buggers this time, for sure!

Re:missed? (3, Funny)

clickclickdrone (964164) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545874)

Newsflash: NASA discover terrorists on Mars. Bush orders them to send some marines on the next mission.

Re:missed? (1)

Gilmoure (18428) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546672)

I think those are tourists and, after growing up in Florida, think we should declare war on 'em. After all, there is a tourist season, why can't I get a license?

Re:missed? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16546682)

Marines? Going to Mars? Oww...that's going to be trouble

Obligatory (1)

Bugs42 (788576) | more than 7 years ago | (#16547986)

Man, those'd be some DOOMed space marines...

Re:missed? (5, Funny)

uncoveror (570620) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546732)

Viking didn't miss a thing. Its more startling discoveries were covered up. Read more [uncoveror.com] and more [uncoveror.com] and more! [uncoveror.com]

Re:missed? (1)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 7 years ago | (#16547380)

Yeah, I've seen the 'face' pics before, but Elvis never looked better.

I dont understant the story (4, Interesting)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545596)

Is this about non-working equipement or harsh environment capable of destroying organic molecules before they can be detected?

Re:I dont understant the story (4, Informative)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545626)

I think thie idea is: They sent Viking to Mars. It had this experiment on it to detect organic molecules. It all came back negative. They thought that meant there might be an oxidant that's actively destroying organic molecules, but these guys say that maybe the experiment was just broken.

Re:I dont understant the story (5, Informative)

barawn (25691) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545898)

I have no idea where the poster got the idea that the experiment would be broken - the article says nothing of the sort. It simply says that the experiment wouldn't have been able to detect certain organic molecules due to the fact that it was a gas chromatograph, and certain organic compounds - specifically, some that you might expect (well, with 30 more years of experience) to be on Mars - aren't volatile - i.e., easily turned into a gas.

The big summary of the article is this:

For these reasons, the Viking experiments do not exclude the possibility that the soil being tested contained organic carboxylic acids, especially benzenecarboxylic acids in substantial amounts.


It's not due to the fact that the experiment was broken. It's just the way it was designed.

Re:I dont understant the story (2, Insightful)

Sique (173459) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546698)

It's not due to the fact that the experiment was broken. It's just the way it was designed.

So it was broken by design?

Re:I dont understant the story (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545942)

or harsh environment capable of destroying organic molecules before they can be detected?

      So if the environment is so harsh that it will destroy mere molecules, the quantum leap here goes uhhh perhaps a complex cellular or multicellular organism can survive duh.

      There is no life on Mars.

Why not try again? (4, Interesting)

Salvance (1014001) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545654)

It seems a little silly to base 2006 missions on results from a 30 year old set of space technology. Sure, we were in our heyday of space exploration during the 70's, but our analytical equipment was light years behind where we are now. The largest computes had fractions of the computing power of today's Blackberry's, and we couldn't transmit data faster than ~300 bps back then. Both of these limitations (which don't exist today), would seriously impede the ability to detect signs of life.

Rather than try to deduce why the analyses of 1976 didn't show signs of organic compounds on the surface, why not just perform better tests now with the next Mars mission?

Cost (5, Insightful)

BeeBeard (999187) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545746)

Mars missions are still extremely expensive, and there's a lot of wisdom behind analyzing past mistakes to make sure they don't happen again in future missions.

Why should there be ANY future missions? (1, Funny)

patio11 (857072) | more than 7 years ago | (#16547276)

Seriously, for $400 million or whatever it takes to send a single unmanned probe to Mars for a few weeks or months before the probe dies, we could either a) accomplish many somethings of genuine use back on Earth or b) learn a heck of a lot more about extreme environment microbes by studying the extreme environments that we have all freaking around us which can be studied *without* needing to put the experimental apparatus on a rocket first. Surely biologists would learn more from funding, oh, say a hundred trips to the bottom of the ocean/South African uranium mines/glacier ice/whatever than they do from another trip to what is, in all likelyhood, still just a big dead red rock.

Re:Why should there be ANY future missions? (2, Insightful)

garyboodhoo (945261) | more than 7 years ago | (#16548282)

If we were to wait for all the "problems" on Earth, all the discoveries of "genuine value" on Earth to be figured out before looking up, we'd be a nation of lawyers, accountants and middle managers.

we can multitask! We can kill & explore & educate & entertain all at the same time. The $400 million or whatever spent on a single unmanned probe is money well spent; not cheap, but not out of scale with any number of public or private projects. If we must, lets sacrifice 3 summer blockbusters each year and funnel the money "saved" to pay for the missions.

Lifetimes of unmanned Mars probes (2, Informative)

Pchelka (805036) | more than 7 years ago | (#16548808)

An unmanned probe to Mars, if designed well, can last for more than a couple of weeks or months once it reaches Mars. The Opportunity rover has been sending data back for about two years now. The Mars Global Surveyor satellite has been sending data back for more than 8 years. The huge amounts of data obtained by these missions will probably keep scientists busy for a few years after the spacecraft or rovers themselves no longer function. The cost of these unmanned missions is very small compared to what President Bush wants the U.S. to spend over the next decade to send humans to Mars for a short, risky mission that will probably have very little scientific return.

If we focused on sending unmanned probes to Mars and the other planets, the U.S. government could probably afford to fund both the unmanned spacecraft missions and biologists studying extremophiles in hostile environments here on Earth. The President's Vision for Space Exploration has had a terrible effect on NASA science fuding, as well as science funding for other governement agencies as well.

Re:Why not try again? (4, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545916)

silly to base 2006 missions on results from a 30 year old set of space technology.

      You think that's silly, wait until you find out what missions were based on 30 years ago!

      But seriously, what _else_ are we going to base it on?

Re:Why not try again? (3, Interesting)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546202)

We still have to decide where and how to look. If the hypothesis about powerful oxidizers in the soil is correct then all future tests for life should be designed to dig as deep as possible. But that involves moving parts and power consumption, which you don't want to incur unless you know you need them.

Obligatory conspiracy theorist answer (4, Funny)

BeeBeard (999187) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545676)

That's just what they want us to think.

Re:Obligatory conspiracy theorist answer (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16545744)

That's just what they want us to think.

Would "they" be the government or the martians?

Re:Obligatory conspiracy theorist answer (3, Funny)

BeeBeard (999187) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545764)

Yes.

Re:Obligatory conspiracy theorist answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16546356)

That was funny. Who in the heck wastes mod points modding down funny comments anyway?

Think they missed it this time? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16545678)

In short - no life on Mars. (3, Insightful)

Cicero382 (913621) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545732)

...barring some bizarre deep-rock extremophiles.

1. Hard radiation on surface - not good.
2. Virtually zero atmosphere - not that good.
3. No (or little water) - not good.
4. Highly oxidising compounds on surface - very bad.

Each in themselves, not a show-stopper. Two - err... All of them == no life. Well, not as we know it (Jim - sorry).

As a biochemist, I wouldn't expect any form of life (AWKI) to survive those conditions; not even if I were allowed to tweak every other possible variable to the organism's advantage. It would be nice to be proved wrong - but I don't think so.

Re:In short - no life on Mars. (1)

aztec rain god (827341) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545904)

As seen in the Onion [theonion.com]

Re:In short - no life on Mars. (4, Informative)

pla (258480) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545918)

barring some bizarre deep-rock extremophiles.

You mean like these [slashdot.org] , recently discovered in a South African gold mine?

Except for the water part (which Mars may well have underground), they seem just about perfectly suited to the environment on Mars... They don't need an atmosphere, they depend on radiation, and they have a sulfur-based metabolism rather than using oxygen.

Sounds like a good match... We should look for something like those, rather than trying to find types of organisms that, as you point out, have a very, very low chance of surviving on Mars.

Re:In short - no life on Mars. (2, Informative)

Cicero382 (913621) | more than 7 years ago | (#16547526)

"they seem just about perfectly suited to the environment on Mars... They don't need an atmosphere, they depend on radiation,"

Which wouldn't help them on Mars. Unlike Earth which has an abundance of radioactive materials, Mars has virtually none that we know of. AFAIK, it's part of the reason that the planet is dead (tectonically, that is).

Re:In short - no life on Mars. (5, Interesting)

jimktrains (838227) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546100)

As a molecular biologist, I've learned that whenever I say "this can't/shouldn't happen", nature makes a fool of me. Life can find a niche anywhere.

1. Hard radiation on surface - Deinococcus radiodurans.
2. Virtually zero atmosphere - anaerobes (in general).
3. No (or little water) - I forget the genus.
4. Highly oxidising compounds on surface - cyanobacteria.

Granted, it would be complex, but the features we want of each bacteria could be merged (as I said, not an easy of quick process, but in principle possible) to give a bacteria that could fit the bill. And if we can design one to, the natuer can evolve one to (in fact, nature has evolved things that we couldn't even begin to think about builing).

I agree with previous poster, study the past; but a new mission focused on this is nessicary. We have better devises and methods for analysing samples.

Re:In short - no life on Mars. (2)

Cicero382 (913621) | more than 7 years ago | (#16547340)

Um. I think you're just confirming what I was saying in the first place. Or, to put it another way, I think you missed my point - no disrespect intended - it's probably my lack of talent for explaining things.

I was pointing out that each of the conditions I listed (and there are many more) had it's own special challenge to known (or even hypothesised) organisms. Note that I used a scale of "Not Good" to "Very Bad"; I didn't use "Impossible".

What I was trying to say was that taken individually these conditions are *severe* obstacles to LAWKI - but not insurmountable. However, the combination of them all blocks all known tricks that organisms use to circumvent otherwise hostile conditions. So, it is difficult to imagine an organism that can survive with:

1. Hard radiation: Martian UV flux would give you fatal sunburn in seconds. Not to mention *ionising* radiation which would slap complex molucules in any organism into their component parts.
2. Virtually zero atmosphere: This represents a scarcity of resources. It's no good being a CO2 ingester if there's hardly any there.
3. Little water: OK, there may well be water on Mars. Does anyone know of an organism that needs *no* water to survive? Important - see below.
4. Highly oxidising compounds: This, from my point of view, is the real killer (pun intended). It involves compounds that have a powerful ability to rip electrons off molecules. If one assumes an organism which needs water to survive it's had it! The combination of dessication (in a water poor environment) combined with what is effectively a serious electron transport disruptor means that there is no *known* mechanism an organism could deploy to maintain its own integrity - let alone reproduction.

Still, it would be wonderful if we *did* find something - I'd be the first to acknowledge that more more we learn the more we realise we know dick-all. After all, wouldn't the Universe be a boring place if we didn't have a *lot* of "OMG! Lookatthat! That's IMPOSSIBLE! WOW!" moments left to trip over.

But in this case, with not even theoretical models to use, how do we know what to test for?

Re:In short - no life on Mars. (2, Informative)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546290)

And yet you have it incorrect (4, Informative)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546428)

  1. There are bacteria that actually make use of radiation to provide the energy.
  2. No atmosphere you say; First off, there is an atmosphere there; It is mostly CO2. Anaerobe anyone?
  3. No water on Mars? You have to be kidding. It is known that there is plenty of water. But on the surface, It is in the form of ice.
  4. And again there are bacteria that withstand these compounds (few, but they exist).
Finally, all of these issues are on the surface. Think about caves.

Re:In short - no life on Mars. (2, Insightful)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546508)

But then almost no one would have expected to find life some of it pretty complex living in and near geothermal vents.
Life seems to be very adaptable. I am pretty sure that not environment on earth have been found to be devoid of life. They found living bacteria on the less of the Surveyor camera that had sat on the moon for like two years!

From what I know of history people thought that the deep sea would be lifeless as well. I mean think of the total lack of light, the cold, and the pressure. No life as they knew it could survive miles down.
Never say never.

Re:In short - no life on Mars. (1)

Ogive17 (691899) | more than 7 years ago | (#16548378)

Life as we know it adapted to what was abundant on our planet. How do we know organisms didn't devellop and thrive on Mars?

(next part has little to do with the parent)
It seems any time there is talk about intelligent life, you also hear the words "carbon based" as well. In the nearly infinate expanses of space, why can't there be worlds out there with highly develloped life that is not carbon based and not dependant on water? Maybe there are some aliens out there that thrive on radioactive material... I think, in general, we have tunnel vision simply because we've never experienced anything different.

Re:In short - no life on Mars. (1)

E++99 (880734) | more than 7 years ago | (#16549498)


1. Hard radiation on surface - not good.
2. Virtually zero atmosphere - not that good.
3. No (or little water) - not good.
4. Highly oxidising compounds on surface - very bad.

Each in themselves, not a show-stopper. Two - err... All of them == no life. Well, not as we know it (Jim - sorry).


It's a pretty big leap from "no life as we know it" to "no life," especially since any life on Mars would be, pretty much by definition, "not as we know it." It seems like a bad habit of convenience in science to use ignorance itself almost as if it were evidence of something.

Re:In short - no life on Mars. (1)

WheresMyDingo (659258) | more than 7 years ago | (#16549536)

so, in other words:
1. sunny
2. no clouds
3. low humidity
4. a cozy fire

+ no life. which just means:
5. some quality alone-time

priceless!

Oh give me a break (4, Insightful)

Vintermann (400722) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545762)

The optimism of life-seekers on Mars does not suprise me any longer. Just about every person I have heard quoted believes that either there is life on Mars, or there was in the past. The only dissent I've heard was from James Lovelock, who predicted _before_ the Viking missions that no life would be found on Mars, based on its infrared signature from space. Simply put, he said that on the one planet we know life exists, it has completely transformed our environment to such a degree that would be completely impossible (from the amount of unstable gases in our atmosphere, among other things) for an alien observer to miss it. If there was life on Mars, why has it been so utterly passive and gentle to its environment compared to life on earth?

I'm still convinced by that. I don't think life could have existed on Mars today without transforming its environment, and I don't think it could have existed in the past without leaving huge traces - and it would be very unlikely that it should die out, too. Life as we know it just doesn't behave like that.

But the difference being... (1)

geoffrobinson (109879) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545980)

Looking for life or organic compounds coming from Earth to Mars via meteorites. That is a reasonable scenario worth looking into.

Re:Oh give me a break (1)

MORB (793798) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545998)

Life doesn't imply sentience.

Re:Oh give me a break (1)

MORB (793798) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546060)

Ok, I understood what you wrote backwards.
But still, as you point out, we know how life works on ONE planet. How can we assume that it always works like this?
I think that the idea is that some rudimentary life form could exist on Mars and unable to evolve and thrive into somethign very complex because of the environment.

Re:Oh give me a break (2, Insightful)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546320)

That's not what he means. The blue-green algae changed the planet more than sentient life ever has.

Re:Oh give me a break (2, Insightful)

Captain Hook (923766) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546800)

Life as we know it just doesn't behave like that.
Based on a sample of one data point.

Re:Oh give me a break (2, Interesting)

DestroyAllZombies (896198) | more than 7 years ago | (#16549318)

James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis works well when applied to Earth (no doubt somebody will challenge this). The self-regulating web of life has emerged over billions of years. But Earth and Mars have had very different geological/areological histories. In this context, how might Mars look if life were interrupted by a huge meteor strike? Even a significant degree of life could be obliterated after a billion years of storms and strikes IMHO (not a planetary scientist). Looking back to early Earth, what traces of life are left from before the planet was flooded with oxygen? Certainly none visible from orbit. It's possibly true that life as we know it doesn't behave like that ... but we only have this one sample. I think it's more reasonable to assume that the process of life may take different paths, some resulting in a deep global change such as we have, and some just barely hanging on. Or even dying out. But a good hypothesis deserves a test, don't you think?

when I was a paper boy I read.. Life found on Mars (3, Interesting)

MrJerryNormandinSir (197432) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545766)

Wrong. The Viking mission detected microbial life. I was a 12 year old paper boy at the time. I remember, this made front page headline news. The Viking mission detected microbial life. The following day it was retracted. I kind of believed that the retraction was false. I always did. Perhaps manipulation from the right wing of our government thinking that we were not ready for the information. hey , if microbes can survive deep in the permafrost in the Antartic, then hey, microbes can survive on mars
deep in the martian soil.

As far as advanced life, well think about how many stars there are, followed by how many solar systems, and the expanse of the universe, heck... an alien life form may be so far out there that we'd never make contact, but heck, it's possible that there's life
out there.

Re:when I was a paper boy I read.. Life found on M (3, Informative)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545908)

Wrong. The Viking mission detected microbial life....The following day it was retracted.

As TFA explains:

The Viking 1976 missions to Mars performed several experiments designed to assess the potential for life on the planet. The results were puzzling. Samples of soil from the top 10 cm of the Martian surface released dioxygen when exposed to humidity (1). At least one compound in a set of radiolabeled organic compounds (formate, D,L-lactate, glycolate, glycine, and D,L-alanine) released radiolabeled carbon dioxide when placed in aqueous solution on the Martian surface, evidently via oxidative processes (2). Both results were initially thought to indicate the presence of life. However, a GC-MS experiment looking for volatile products from a sample of soil heated for 30 s (sometimes repeatedly) at 200, 350, and 500C did not detect any organic molecules (3). This result was (and remains) strong evidence against life on Mars, at least at the surface.

TFA then considers the chemistry at the Martian surface and argues that the GC-MS experiement was misdesigned. I am not a chemist and can't speak to the strength of their argument.

Re:when I was a paper boy I read.. Life found on M (2)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546532)

Yep, we had neo-cons clear back then. Yeah, I remember that when it occured. It occasionally makes it into google as well. The original inventor of the idea backed off because a different route was found that could invalidate the test (it was generation of various gases that were measured via gas chromatograph as I recall. Since then every test that we have done that checks for possible life comes back positive, but we always figure inorganic chemistries that can get around these.

I guess that until we go there and test it directly, we will not know. May not know then either.

Re:when I was a paper boy I read.. Life found on M (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16547102)

s/google/slashdot/; sorry.

detected oxygen disequilibrium (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546820)

Many tests for life look for chemical disequilibriums in soil or the atmosphere. The hypothesis is life will cause disequilibriums. One example is that ethane and oxygen together is unstable, since solar energy will eventually cause methane to combine with oxygen to make more stable water and carbon dioxide.
The oxygen disequiblrium found in the Viking soils was attributed to peroxide in the soil caused by UV bombardment. This didnt rule out life, but provided a non-biotic alternative explanation.
A recently discovered disequilibrium is methane emissions from the Martian surface. Life is one of the hypothesis. Again it is ambiguious, because there are abiotic possibilities too.

This is sort of old (5, Informative)

dbirnbau (640779) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545776)

Notice that this article was published in 2000. It doesn't say that the equipment was "broken"; it merely points out that there exist chemical pathways that would result in relatively stable organic compounds that wouldn't have been detected by the Viking equipment. The next mission can look for traces of these compounds specifically, now that someone has pointed out that there is a mechanism for their creation.

We haven't found life, why don't we seed life? (1)

peterlombardo (934259) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545798)

It's probably obvious by now that there aren't any bipeds walking around on Mars. Is it feasible to seed microbial colonies now that could possibly assist us for when we have the ability to colonize Mars in 200 years?

Re:We haven't found life, why don't we seed life? (2, Informative)

iamlucky13 (795185) | more than 7 years ago | (#16548278)

A couple reasons:

1.) There might really be life there that we're missing. If we "seed" Mars, we taint any future observations. We might even end up overwhelming it (eg, non-native invasive species).

2.) What do you send? As others have noted, the environment on Mars is extremely hostile to life as we know it. We could spend half a billion dollars sending a capsule with some fancy extremophiles there only to have them all die.

3.) Assuming they survive, in a radically different environment, they may no longer be helpful. Instead of photosynthesizing CO2 for O2, for instance, they may decide they'd rather lie dormant until disturbed by a human host, turning him into a evil zombie that can only be stopped from spreading by wiping out all intelligent life from the galaxy (btw, mod +1: Halo reference).

Your question has been asked before. In fact, NASA has an oversight person titled the "Planetary Protection Officer" whose job is to ensure that probes which we send to Mars and other planets are as free from bacteria and spores as possible, and for sample returns like from the Moon or Stardust mission, make sure there is no threat of some unexpected, unstoppable contamination that might kill us all (or even just millions of people).

How rude. (2, Funny)

Honest Olaf (1011253) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545806)

At least when Martians launch missions to Earth, they have the courtesy to say "Hi". Even if it's with a million-degree super-laser.

Dude, they sent us Jimmy Carter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16548502)

Remember, Carter was elected in the first election after the Viking probes landed on Mars.

Carter was (and still is...) the Martian's return probe.

And if you were old enough, you should well remember how badly Carter fucked us all in the ass, like the useless damn anal probe from another planet that he still is. There's a good damn reason Carter was tossed out for an overage washed-up actor.

The overage washed-up actor was a huge improvement.

Let's put it this way: when that overage washed-up actor passed on, it touched a lot of people whether you like it or not. When Carter finally passes, there's going to be a whole lot of people who actually remember his incompetence ("North Korea will never build nukular weapons"... Yah, right) and idiocy (he all but wiped Hugo Chavez's and Yassar Arafat's cum off his chin...) and think it's about damn time.

And all you /tards that bust on W's pronunciation of "nuclear"? Well, Carter says it the exact same way.

Another remote possibility... (2, Insightful)

mrjb (547783) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545824)

...is of course, still, that there simply is no life on Mars (except for the micro-organisms we brought there from Earth). Just because the equipment failed to detect it, doesn't mean it has to exist. That's like saying "I've never seen a yellow-dotted purple kangaroo, but I may have been looking in the wrong direction so they probably exist."

Re:Another remote possibility... (2, Funny)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545844)

That's like saying "I've never seen a yellow-dotted purple kangaroo, but I may have been looking in the wrong direction so they probably exist."

      G'day mate! You've probably ne'er tried any of these mushrooms - here you go. See the 'roo now, mate?

Re:Another remote possibility... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16547222)

You are correct in saying that presuming the existance of yellow-spotted purple kangaroos would be unreasonable right now.

But suppose that we already knew that every species of mammal on the planet (with the possible exception of the kangaroo) produced one offspring in every million that was purple with yellow spots. What should you then say if nobody had ever seen a yellow-spotted purple kangaroo? You'd have to say that the best working hypothesis is that they DO in fact exist - and that we just havn't found one yet. A sceptical scientist should rightly say "I believe there are yellow-spotted purple kangaroos - until you PROVE to me that there aren't any."

Hence the rule: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".

The difficulty in using this kind of approach for life on other planets is that our rule doesn't serve us well here. We have had a sample of exactly one planet to study carefully - it has insanely abundent life - but it has to have because of the anthropic principle - so it simply doesn't count as a scientific result (other than to assert that life CAN exist under the right conditions). So is the claim of life on Mars an 'extraordinary claim' - or is the claim that Mars is totaly devoid of life an 'extraordinary claim'?

We just don't know which is the most unlikely situation - so we can't go around saying "You need extraordinary evidence before we believe in life on Mars". If we'd already sampled 100 planets - and all had basic microbial life - and THEN we went to Mars, the lack of evidence for life would be looked on with extreme scepticism. If we'd sampled 100 planets and conclusively proved no life on any of them - then evidence for life on Mars would have to be examined with extreme scepticism.

As I understand it, two out of three of Voyagers experiments came up positive for life. One came up negative. We have a chunk of Mars that arrived here as a meteroite that has tons of circumstantial evidence for life - but for which a sceptic could come up with a faitly complicated 'natural' mechanism that would produce those signs in the absence of life. We are pretty sure there was water on the surface and that there is still water beneath the surface.

Should the 'working hypothesis' be "no life" or "lots of life"?

Having seen the bizaaroid 'extremophile' bacteria that we have miles underground on Earth - that live on radioactive elements splitting of water molecules...I'm inclined to say that the most likely hypothesis is that life can and will arise just about anywhere - and that the sceptical person should be sceptical about evidence of a LACK of life on Mars. That's not a popular view right now - but it's every bit as defensible as a default hypothesis.

But truly, right now, we have no idea which is the likely scenario - so being 'sceptical' (either way) is of no value.

Given where life appears on earth (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16547394)

I think it unlikely that there isn't any life on Mars.
Microbes/bacteria and other simple life processes. They're pretty hardy.

Testing for Life on Mars (3, Funny)

TechForensics (944258) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545846)

One of the earlier Viking missions had a test that burned a small sample of soil to see if carbon were produced; if yes, Life! I have always thought this experiment was misconceived, as it would not have proved the existence of life on Mars. It would have proved there USED TO BE life on Mars-- we killed it!

with apologies to Father Guido Sarducci...

Alternative 3 (4, Interesting)

clickclickdrone (964164) | more than 7 years ago | (#16545958)

I still vividly remember watching the BBC 'April Fool' documentary 'Alternative 3' in the 70's which scared the hell out of me. For those that never heard of it, it was a documentry about the various scientists that were going missing at the time (for real, in the UK) and claimed they had found out the Earth was dying and the governments of the world had drawn up 3 solutions. 1 & 2 were something like reducing population growth, killing excess/useless members of the population etc. but 3 was to go to Mars, seed the atmosphere and start to collonise it. They had a thread running through of an encrypted video tape they'd been given. When they managed to get a decoder it showed a clip taken by Voyager of the now familiar rock strewn red surface but as the camera panned, the soil started to move and something was clearly alive there and burrowing about under the surface. The point being Mars wasn't as dead as we first thought.
Oh, and the 'missing' scientists were all on Mars working on the terraforming.
Trouble was, it was supposed to be an April fool joke but got showed about a week later causing Orson Wells/War of the Worlds chaos for a few days until the BBC issued a release saying it was all a joke. A book came out about ten years later saying it was all real and the BBC had been forced to cover it up.
To be clear, it was a spoof - it had lots of people in it who are now well known actors but at the time were unknowns.
Alas, apart from a few very grainy clips, it has never been reshown and is almost impossible to find.

Re:Alternative 3 (1)

clickclickdrone (964164) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546036)

There's an entry on Wikipedia. Turns out it was Anglia TV not BBC and the video is available online these days. Sorry, my memory of 1977 is getting rusty :-(

Re:Alternative 3 (3, Informative)

MrCopilot (871878) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546276)

Alas, apart from a few very grainy clips, it has never been reshown and is almost impossible to find.

Quoth the Wiki:

Watch the entire show @ http://www.thule.org/brains/aroundtheconspiracy.ht ml [thule.org]

Re:Alternative 3 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16546984)

Alternative 3 can be found in the world of torrents

Re:Alternative 3 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16548686)

I was fooled by this until the credits rolled up at the end. A brilliant piece of TV- The reason given in the show, for the end of the earth, was global warming!. For the 70's very prescient. Top marks to the writers

well duh (1)

j00r0m4nc3r (959816) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546034)

ANY test we perform or observation we make could be totally flawed because we don't know what we're looking for.

Were the Viking landers faked? (1)

DrDitto (962751) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546056)

Where are the idiots proclaiming that the U.S. faked the Mars Viking landings?

Ta3o (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16546094)

on baby...don'T Platform for the practical purposes,

Vikings? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16546198)

They should have sent an Overlord if they wanted the job done right.
On another note... FOR THE SWARM!

Typical (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16546210)

Never send a Viking to do a Norseman's job.

Just Means Not Conclusive (3, Insightful)

EXTomar (78739) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546324)

Which doesn't mean "it missed something!" Viking might have "missed something" and yet there still might not be life. It just means it isn't very conclusive so we should go back and look again.

One thing that I continually like to point out is that "life" at a basic level is agressively replicant. If there is any life that is a little successful, it explodes and tries to fill every nook and cranny and does it as fast as it can. If there is life anywhere on Mars it should be easy to find if we take a wide survey testing multiple places at multiple times of the Martian year. Just two tests isn't sufficient to call it either way.

Repeat after me (1)

yoprst (944706) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546512)

Mars is a dead planet

;ep!! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16546524)

Don't think so... (1)

halivar (535827) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546530)

And if I close my eyes, I might miss the Pink Unicorn.

There is no life on Mars. There probably never was life on Mars. There is no ecosystem to protect. Let's terraform it.

Re:Don't think so... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16548552)

There is no life on Mars. There probably never was life on Mars. There is no ecosystem to protect. Let's terraform it.

Dr. Carol Marcus says you boys have to be absolutely clear on this.

Suggested improvement for the viking experiment (1)

XNormal (8617) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546544)

Perform the experiment with two soil samples, one of them is first irradiated with a dose similar to that used for sterilization of food or medical equipment here on Earth.

Re:Suggested improvement for the viking experiment (1)

WiFiBro (784621) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546588)

And what is your prediction to the results?

Re:Suggested improvement for the viking experiment (1)

XNormal (8617) | more than 7 years ago | (#16547722)

Left as an excercise for the reader :-)

Look over the sand-dune (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16546664)

> The Viking mars mission in 1976 might have missed signs of life due to not completely working analysis equipment.

Yeh just zoom out the camera, and there's a giant Martian city over the next sand dune.

I am the only one who watched the TV series?

Or... (1)

GmAz (916505) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546754)

Or...there is no live on Mars. ***GASP***

obviously (1)

AlgorithMan (937244) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546782)

obviously EVERY mars-mission, that didn't find life there, missed the gasoline for the chainsaw

They didn't miss it, this is what really happened. (1)

ataX (625437) | more than 7 years ago | (#16546932)

What if "they" wanted us to "miss them"?
Video Proof: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-268015547 4575209066 [google.com]

Re:They didn't miss it, this is what really happen (1)

Aquila Deus (798176) | more than 7 years ago | (#16548020)

LOL!

FRIST STOP... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16546938)

A n3ed to play obvious That there

Viking Mars Mission Might Have Missed Life... (1)

kbox (980541) | more than 7 years ago | (#16547044)

... But Beagle missed Mars.

Re: Viking Mars Mission Might Have Missed Life... (1)

Cicero382 (913621) | more than 7 years ago | (#16547702)

No, it didn't. It hit at full speed.

Future life on Mars is more important to me (1)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 7 years ago | (#16547124)

I've grown tired of the question regarding existing life on mars. Theocratic arguments don't interest me. I want the next missions to focus only on questions regarding the steps needed to terraform and colonize.

Re:Future life on Mars is more important to me (1)

russellh (547685) | more than 7 years ago | (#16548504)

Yeah. But Mars is an oldster, while Venus is the much more exciting up and comer! Because everyone knows that the sun is a planet factory. Sure - Earth is in the sweet spot for unassisted living now, but Mars will always be on life support, while Venus is where it's at tomorrow.

Peroxide Solutions (1)

J05H (5625) | more than 7 years ago | (#16547166)

The solution to the possible peroxides (not the life-detection) issue is to fly a set of sample materials and see how they react to martian atmosphere and regolith. We've been batting this back and forth for 20 years - just fly some samples and see what happens.

There were reports a few years ago about a new analysis of Viking GC-MS data that showed a 24.5-hour respiration cycle in the regolith samples it gathered. We might have to stop calling it regolith and start calling it soil.

Josh

so a flesh eating 'oxidant' is what exterminated - (1)

Locutus (9039) | more than 7 years ago | (#16547194)

the Martian race? THAT explains everything. ;-)

LoB

The Viking Mission Did Find Life on Mars (4, Informative)

Chemicalscum (525689) | more than 7 years ago | (#16547444)

The Viking mission did find life on Mars. There were two experiments designed to detect life on Mars. The chemistry experiment using Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry headed by Prof. Klaus Biemann and the biology experiment using a Labelled Release technique headed by Dr. Gilbert Levine. The GC-MS experiment reported a failure to detect organic molecules that could be associated with life. The LR biology experiment reported the detection of life. This meant that radiolabelled carbon dioxide was detected as being released from a media containing a mixture of labelled amino acids and sugars after incubation with Martian soil: http://mars.spherix.com/ [spherix.com] .

Klaus Biemann was a famous and respected chemist and mass-spectrometrist who had done much of the original work in developing GC-MS, While Gilbert Levine was a relative unknown who had run a start company that sold environmental testing equipment based on the LR technology Levine had invented. Bieman to it as an affront to himself the chemists and mass spectrometry as a technique that a biology experiment could detect life when his chemistry experiment could not. So he took it upon himself to launch an unremitting campaign to prove that the LR results were a false positive. The claimed to have proved this to be so but this was specious as no one had proposed a chemical model that would reproduce the Martian LR results in the laboratory.

Meanwhile experimental tests helped show the reliability of the LR experiments. Samples of Lunar rock from the Apollo missions tested negative, while Antarctic ice cores, which had been shown to contain micro-organisms at a very low level, gave positive results. However Biemann and other chemists, together with those that just simply refused to believe life on Mars is possible, had more or less silenced the debate.

I write this as a chemist who had just started work on GC-MS (and to me Biemann was something of a hero) at the time of the Viking landings (yes I am ancient). However I am convinced now after looking at the evidence that there is a strong case to argue that the LR experiments on the Viking landers provided strong evidence for the presence of microbial life in Martian soil.

Re:The Viking Mission Did Find Life on Mars (3, Interesting)

Chemicalscum (525689) | more than 7 years ago | (#16547736)

An additional point as a mass spectrometrist I know that their their is a limit to detection by mass spec. It is very low but not low enough to deal with the following scenario. There are very low levels of micro-organisms in a dormant spore form present in the Martian soil, similar to the situation with antarctic ice cores. When liquid water becomes available, These spores convert to their active vegatative state which can use inorganic chemical reactions for energy and carbon dioxide as a carbon source.

If biological molecules are available they can facultatively use them for growth as in the case of Levine's Labelled Release experiment. This means that there could be very low levels of organic material in the Martian soil yet living potentially active micro-organisms could be present. This would explain the negative result found by the Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry experiment.

Missed opportunity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16547600)

This is a blatant case of a Viking not using Spam.

Or (2, Insightful)

slapout (93640) | more than 7 years ago | (#16549334)

it could simply be that there is no life on Mars.

Mars Mission (1)

nawtykitty (886197) | more than 7 years ago | (#16549398)

I was too busy being born in 1976...
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