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Mars NASA Science

New Study Suggests Mars Viking Robots Found Life 172

Posted by samzenpus
from the it's-alive-alive dept.
techfun89 writes "New analysis of data, now 36 years old, from the Viking robots, suggests that NASA had found life on Mars. This conclusion was published by an international team of mathematicians and scientists this week. The Labeled Release experiment looked for signs of microbial metabolism in soil samples in 1976. The general thinking was that the experiment had found geological not biological activity. However, the new study approached things differently. Researchers broke the data into sets of numbers and analyzed the results for complexity. What they found were close correlations between the Viking results' complexity and those of terrestrial biological data sets. Based on this they concluded that the Viking results were more biological in nature than just geological processes."
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New Study Suggests Mars Viking Robots Found Life

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  • To boldly stay away (Score:2, Informative)

    by arth1 (260657) on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:18AM (#39671839) Homepage Journal

    Time to invoke the prime directive and leave it alone.

    Seriously, if this were true, it means we should restrict visits to Mars. Not only to have a chance to study evolving life over the next aeons, but also so we won't drag back something.
    .

  • Re:"Complexity"? (Score:5, Informative)

    by julesh (229690) on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:22AM (#39671857)

    Paper is available for open access here: http://ijass.org/On_line/admin/files/2)(014-026)11-030.pdf [ijass.org]

    Haven't read it yet, but they seem to have analysed with multiple definitions of complexity.

  • Full Paper Link (Score:5, Informative)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:31AM (#39671905) Journal
    A little bit of googling led me to a PDF of the full published paper [ijass.org] if anyone's interested.
  • by FunkDup (995643) on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:32AM (#39671913)
    If there's life on Mars, it probably originated here [technologyreview.com]

    Their results contain a number of surprises. First, they calculate that almost as much ejecta would have ended up on Europa as on the Moon: around 10^8 individual Earth rocks in some scenarios. That's because the huge gravitational field around Jupiter acts as a sink for rocks, which then get swept up by the Jovian moons as they orbit. But perhaps most surprising is the amount that makes its way across interstellar space. Last year, we looked at calculations suggesting that more Earth ejecta must end up in interstellar space than all the other planets combined.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:39AM (#39671951)

    LMGTFY: http://www.space.com/7775-strange-mars-photo-includes-tantalizing-tree-illusion.html

  • Abstract (Score:5, Informative)

    by mdsolar (1045926) on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:53AM (#39672081) Homepage Journal
    Complexity Analysis of the Viking Labeled Release Experiments

    Giorgio Bianciardi, Joseph D. Miller, Patricia Ann Straat and Gilbert V. Levin

    The only extraterrestrial life detection experiments ever conducted were the three which were components of the 1976 Viking Mission to Mars. Of these, only the Labeled Release experiment obtained a clearly positive response. In this experiment 14 C radiolabeled nutrient was added to the Mars soil samples. Active soils exhibited rapid, substantial gas release. The gas was probably CO2 and, possibly, other radiocarbon-containing gases. We have applied complexity analysis to the Viking LR data. Measures of mathematical complexity permit deep analysis of data structure along continua including signal vs. noise, entropy vs.negentropy, periodicity vs. aperiodicity, order vs. disorder etc. We have employed seven complexity variables, all derived from LR data, to show that Viking LR active responses can be distinguished from controls via cluster analysis and other multivariate techniques. Furthermore, Martian LR active response data cluster with known biological time series while the control data cluster with purely physical measures. We conclude that the complexity pattern seen in active experiments strongly suggests biology while the different pattern in the control responses is more likely to be non-biological. Control responses that exhibit relatively low initial order rapidly devolve into near-random noise, while the active experiments exhibit higher initial order which decays only slowly. This suggests a robust biological response. These analyses support the interpretation that the Viking LR experiment did detect extant microbial life on Mars.
  • by The Dancing Panda (1321121) on Friday April 13, 2012 @09:03AM (#39672155)

    "In mathematical terms, the Euclidean distance between the centroids of the two clusters was significantly larger than the intra-cluster distances between any members of either cluster." Any English major could tell you what kind of cluster that sentence is!

    This sentence makes perfect sense. They were a little redundant when saying "intra-cluster distances between any members of either cluster", where they could have just said "intra-cluster distances".

  • by gardyloo (512791) on Friday April 13, 2012 @09:26AM (#39672415)

    The sentence is fine, and makes perfect sense if you know what cluster analysis is. An English major, furthermore, would perhaps have used "detecting life" and some proper ellipses instead of "detecting live". :P

  • by mbone (558574) on Friday April 13, 2012 @10:05AM (#39672829)

    Not to argue the science involved, but wouldn't the act of heating the soil to sterilize it effectively change the chemistry, too? For instance, if the soil contained frozen gases or water, those could have reacted in the "biological tests" but, once heated, they would not be present in the control tests. In the 70s it was thought that there wasn't water on mars, so would the tests have been designed to account for water?

    It was indeed the argument, after the fact, that the unknown surface chemistry was changed by heat.

    It is a mistake to think that in the '70s it was thought that there was no water on Mars. By the time of Viking, with Valles Marineris and other channels, it seemed likely that there was a substantial amount, at least in the past. Also, there was even overnight "snow" (frost, really) at the Viking 2 site, and IIRC they concluded that that was likely water. The biological tests included "wet" and "dry" experiments, as some thought that water might be poisonous to any surface life used to its absence.

    On Mars, the air is very thin, so the surface can be at +20 C, while 1 meter up a thermometer registers -20 C. The Viking met data always recorded very cold temperatures, but orbiter IR data indicated that the surface at the landers actually did get above freezing during the day. The Viking 1 and 2 surface pressure was above the triple point of water, at least some of the time, so liquid water would be stable on the surface, at least on a warm afternoon in the right time of year.

  • Re:Perchlorates (Score:4, Informative)

    by mbone (558574) on Friday April 13, 2012 @10:29AM (#39673159)

    Been done (many times, in fact), and the results are inconclusive. We don't really know what's in the soil, so it's hard to be certain that results which mimic (or not) the Viking results are actually due to chemistry on Mars, or wishful thinking on Earth.

    By the way, perchlorates may have destroyed any organics in the soil [wired.com] in the heating required to analyze it in the Viking mass spectrometer, so some think that the perchlorates are a reason to rethink the earlier negative conclusions.

  • by Squidlips (1206004) on Friday April 13, 2012 @10:57AM (#39673547)
    No it does not have this, and I don't think one will fly until there is firmer evidence for microbial life. However it has a vastly imporved micro imager...in color no less. The test pictures from it are pretty spectacular (compared to Opportunity's): http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2010-384#4 [nasa.gov]
  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday April 13, 2012 @11:22AM (#39673933) Homepage

    They may land cold, but they sure get hot as they go through the atmosphere, where most of them burn up before ever reaching ground. Look at it this way, the space shuttle also landed "cold" but as we we tragically found out, it got pretty hot before the actual landing.

    Yes and those are small. A large meteor will have some of its surface ablated, but most of the meteor, particularly the interior, will be cool. There simply isn't enough time as the meteor falls for the heat to spread. That which survives to the ground will be cool enough to touch in most cases.

    Similarly, in a normal space shuttle re-entry only the leading surface (the ceramic as in stone tiles) was heated, while the rest of the shuttle remained a comfortable temperature. It was only when that leading surface was compromised and the pressure-heated air was able to enter the interior structure which was fragile that it caused a problem.

    So unless the meteor is a ceramic shell with a fragile interior, this isn't a problem.

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