Researchers analyzed data collected from NASA’s 1976 mission to Mars, known as Viking, and called for the possibility of confirming life on Mars.

Chemical traces of metabolizing agents were found by both Viking spacecraft, which joined with the current findings of the Martian environment may help to conclude that life on Mars did exist. The researchers propose a biological hypothesis explaining that the 1976 Viking Labeled Release (LR) experiments were positive for the existence of Martian microbial life.

Color image of the Martian surface in the Chryse area taken by Viking Lander 1. Image credit: NASA.

Confirming life on Mars 40 years late

The Viking landers arrived on Mars over 4000 miles apart, but their LR experiments yielded similar results as they performed radiorespirometry tests to monitor the evolution of radioactive gas when injected with carbon-based organisms. The experiment tested for the existence of life on Mars by monitoring how the organisms reacted to the environment by submitting the whole process to a test chamber with water and organic compounds.

The results of the LR experiments were positive but have been doubted by the proposal of plausible nonbiological processes. Because only recently it was confirmed that Mars has water, complex organic molecules, and significant levels of the organic gas methane, scientists feel the need of reconsidering if extraterrestrial life can be finally confirmed.

“Data from the Viking biology experiments, which is stored on microfilm, has to be accessed using a microfilm reader,” said NASA. Image credit: David Williams

“The general consensus at the time of Viking was that the LR positive response was non-biologically caused. However, since then, information from later missions to Mars has called the basis of that consensus into question, and it is timely to reconsider a biological explanation for the LR results,” the report reads.

The findings of the LR experiments correlate to similar processes that take place in microorganisms that live on Earth. Researchers have urged that future Mars missions must be focused towards confirming the existence of alien life.

The Viking 1 mission arrived on Mars in June 1976, while Viking 2 arrived in September. Both landers performed the LR experiments and monitored any indicator of organic processes in the Martian soil. They looked for a CO2 isotope that would reveal the existence of a metabolic process in Mars. The tests for the isotope were positive, but scientists at the time attributed its origin to non-organic sources.

Control experiments were performed to ensure that the soil had living elements. Samples were subjected to extreme temperatures and kept under different exposure conditions to try and alter any living compound in the soil.

Some scientists believe that life does exist in the Red Planet, even if it’s in a cryptobiotic state, which could be resurrected if water became available in the present environment.

Another fact that points researchers toward believing that there is life on Mars is the abundance of methane, which may indicate the presence of methane-based life forms on Mars.

The new hypotheses have been labeled as extremely urgent for NASA and the world’s space agencies. ESA will send its ExoMars mission in 2020, with the primary objective of studying the methane found on Mars. Currently, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and its Schiaparelli probe are on their way to land on the planet’s regolith.

Source: Liebert Publishers