NASA Found (And Destroyed) Proof Of Life On Mars In 1976 – How This One Study Unraveled The Threads Of Everything We Know

Thursday, 12 July 2018 - 11:31AM
Space
Mars
Thursday, 12 July 2018 - 11:31AM
NASA Found (And Destroyed) Proof Of Life On Mars In 1976 – How This One Study Unraveled The Threads Of Everything We Know
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Imagine coming face-to-face with the Loch Ness monster and managing to take a picture of it, only to accidentally drop your phone in a campfire (you stable genius, you). According to a recent study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, that's not far off from what NASA may have done back in 1976, only its "Nessie" was life on Mars, and the campfire in this situation was the thrusters of a spacecraft.

NASA announced last month that it found complex organic molecules on Mars, but that announcement should have been made 40 years ago. Scientists reviewing data from past NASA Viking lander missions found that, when some of the first spacecraft landed on Mars in 1976, they may have destroyed the very organic material they were looking for.

From what we've learned of meteorites, comets, and subsequent samples collected from Mars, there are salts called "perchlorates" on the planet that were not detected on the previous journey. One such material is the molecule chlorobenzene, which comes from burning carbons with perchlorates. 

Chris McKay – a planetary scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center and lead author in the new study – believes that the reason these perchlorates were not discovered is that the twin Viking landers had to heat the Martian soil with a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (GCMS) to release the vapors that NASA used for analysis. The process is believed to have destroyed the carbon materials and left behind the chlorobenzene.

Another theory from McKay's colleague, Melissa Guzman of the LATMOS research center, is that the chlorobenzene hitched a ride to Mars aboard the Viking landers. Guzman's theory was considered in the study, but the team ultimately agreed that the Viking landers were at fault per this official statement:

Opening quote
"We conclude the chlorine component of the chlorobenzene is martian, and the carbon molecule of the chlorobenzene is consistent with a martian origin, though we cannot fully rule out instrument contamination."
Closing quote


All things considered, it's not NASA's fault because they didn't know exactly what they were looking for in 1976 – or that by looking for it they could destroy it – but it makes you wonder what other discoveries are being overlooked from decades ago. We're sure the conspiracy theorists will have a field day with this one... It does, after all, make you wonder.

Science
NASA
Space
Mars
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