According to a German scientist, Dirk Schulze-Makuch, NASA destroyed life on Mars 50 years ago when it dispatched two Viking landers to Mars.
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According to a New Scientist investigation, a NASA mission over 40 years ago may have accidentally destroyed what would have been the first discovery of organic molecules on Mars.
NASA recently caused quite a stir when it reported that its Curiosity rover has identified organic molecules — the building blocks of life as we know it — on Mars. This follows the discovery of organic compounds on Mars in 2014. However, because small, carbon-rich meteorites bombard Mars so frequently, scientists have speculated for decades that organics exist on Mars. However, researchers were taken aback in 1976 when NASA dispatched two Viking landers to Mars for the first time to look for organics and discovered none.
Scientists were perplexed by the Viking findings: how could there be no organics on Mars? “It was just completely unexpected and inconsistent with what we knew,” said Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center. [Viking 1: Pictures of the Historic First Mars Landing]
When NASA’s Phoenix lander discovered perchlorate on Mars in 2008, it raised the possibility of an explanation. This is a salt that is used to manufacture fireworks on Earth; at high temperatures, it becomes highly explosive. While the surface of Mars isn’t particularly hot, the main equipment aboard the Viking landers, the gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (GCMS), had to heat Martian soil samples in order to detect organic molecules. Because perchlorate is found in soil, the instrument would have destroyed any organics in the samples during this process.
The discovery of perchlorate reaffirmed scientists’ belief that the Viking landers could have discovered organics on Mars. “You get some new insight, and you realize that everything you thought was wrong,” McKay explained.
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The discovery of perchlorate, however, did not provide conclusive proof that the Viking landers discovered and accidentally destroyed organic molecules, thus the inquiry was continued.
NASA’s Johnson Space Center wrote on Twitter that four volunteers will live inside a ‘3D-Printed Mars’ habitat made by NASA for over a year.
Chlorobenzene was one of the organic compounds found by Curiosity on Mars recently. According to New Scientist, this chemical is formed when carbon molecules react with perchlorate, therefore scientists believe it was formed when the soil samples were burned.
This indirect evidence motivated researchers to delve a little deeper and unearth more evidence that the Viking landers could have discovered and then destroyed organics. Melissa Guzman of the LATMOS research center in France, McKay, and a handful of collaborators examined the Viking lander data in a new study published in June in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets (pdf below).
The Viking landers also identified chlorobenzene, which the researchers believe was generated by burning organic material in the soil samples.
However, the researchers informed New Scientist that this is not proof that the Viking landers discovered organic compounds and subsequently unintentionally burned them. Even the scientists who conducted the study are divided.
Guzman is still not sure that the chlorobenzene they discovered was generated when organics in Martian soil were burned. She speculated that the chemical could have arrived from Earth on NASA equipment.
Despite this doubt, some are convinced; “This paper really seals the deal,” said Daniel Glavin, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center who was not involved in the study.
Read the pdf given below:JGR-Planets-2018-Guzman