WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 (UPI) — New analysis of data sent from Mars 34 years ago showing there was no organic material on the planet suggests maybe there was after all, U.S. scientists say.
Researchers say the result from re-examining findings of the 1976 Viking mission does not bring scientists closer to discovering life on Mars, but it does increase likelihood that life exists, or once existed, on the planet, The Washington Post reported.
The findings demonstrate the risk of “false negatives” in space exploration based on limitations of the equipment used and on scientists’ assumptions about conditions beyond Earth, Mary Voytek, senior scientist for astrobiology at NASA, said
“We can now say there is organic material on Mars, and that the Viking organics experiment that didn’t find any had most likely destroyed what was there during the testing,” said Rafael Navarro-Gonzalez of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, who performed a re-creation of the original testing.
Researchers replicated the Viking mission with soil from the most Mars-like environment on Earth — the Atacama Desert in Chile — and heated the sample in the same way it was heated by the Viking instruments on Mars.
The small amount of organic material known to be in the Atacama soil was detectable low temperatures, but was broken up into water and carbon dioxide when heated.
But the tests always produced other evidence of organic material, evidence discounted in the original Viking mission.
“The big lesson here, and the great importance of this finding, is that we have to know what we’re looking for and how we can find it,” Voytek said. “It shows that we could actually uncover life on Mars and not know it.”
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