Scientists: Did we stumble upon and erase Martian life 50 years back?
WEB DESK: The ancient question, “Are we alone in the universe?” still intrigues people, inspiring lots of movies, books and TV shows.
SYFY reported that the fictional tale of many movies, for example Resident Evil bears resemblance to the historical events in Roswell, New Mexico, where an unidentified object plummeted into the desert in the summer of 1947. Officially, it was classified as an experimental balloon, but conspiracy theories speculated it was a crashed alien craft with retrieved extraterrestrial bodies. .
Although the truth of that day in the desert remains elusive, we wonder whether our encounter with alien life may have occurred not in Patience, Colorado, or Roswell, but rather on Mars.
In a recent article for Think Bigan author and astrobiologist at Technical University Berlin Dr Dirk Schulze-Makuch raised the intriguing possibility that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Viking landers may have unwittingly detected life on Mars but accidentally terminated it in the process.
Read more: Study: Extreme cold wiped out human ancestors 900,000 years ago
Titled Humans May Have Already Murdered Their First Aliens, the study looks back at the 1970s when NASA sent two missions, Viking I and Viking II, to Mars. Each mission had a spacecraft orbiting the planet and one landing on it. Viking I landed on July 20, 1976, in the western part of Mars called Chryse Planitia. Viking II followed a couple of months later, landing on September 3, 1976, in a place called Utopia Planitia.
The US missions were the first to land successfully on Mars and opened the door for many years of exploration on the Martian surface. The Soviet Mars 3 landed there first, but it broke down soon after and could only send one confusing picture.
Meanwhile, Viking’s primary mission was to capture high-resolution photographs from Mars’ surface, which it accomplished effectively, transmitting the first clear images from another world.
However, these landers weren’t sent to Mars merely for sightseeing. They were equipped with experimental instruments designed to search for signs of Martian life. Three separate experiments were conducted, with two initially indicating signs consistent with the potential presence of life. Subsequent experiments produced conflicting outcomes, leading scientists to conclude that Viking had not detected life.
Dr. Schulze-Makuch offered an alternative interpretation, suggesting that Viking may have indeed detected microbial life, but the experimental conditions may have inadvertently eradicated it.
In recent years, we’ve learned more about life on Earth and the possibility of life on other planets. NASA’s rovers, like Curiosity and Perseverance, are on Mars looking for signs of life. We’ve also found organic materials on Mars, which supports what Viking discovered. Dr. Schulze-Makuch suggests that the reason we haven’t found clear proof of life on Mars might be because we assume that all life needs water, like on Earth.
Considering this assumption, Viking’s experiments aimed to hydrate Martian regolith (Martian soil) in their search for life. The logic behind the approach was that if Martian life were dormant, introducing water could enhance its detectability. This strategy is known to be both reasonable and effective on Earth for numerous microorganisms residing in arid environments.
Some Earth organisms can survive in dry environments by extracting moisture from the air, and immersing them in water would be harmful. This situation can be compared to an intelligent alien finding a human in the desert, knowing we need water, and placing us in the middle of the ocean.
While the idea makes sense, Mars has evolved differently over millions of years. Martian life, if it exists, might be adapted to Mars’ conditions and could tolerate its environment. Using too much water in experiments like Viking’s could explain the conflicting results.
The question of whether Viking truly found life on Mars remains unanswered. It’s strange to detect life on our first Mars mission and not on subsequent ones, which raises doubts about Viking’s role in potentially discovering and accidentally harming Martian life.