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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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  • by way2trivial (601132) on Friday April 13, 2012 @07:14AM (#39671793) Homepage Journal

    to loosen up a few dollars to the space program.

  • by mbone (558574) on Friday April 13, 2012 @07:45AM (#39672005)

    Each Viking Lander had 3 biological experiments, for a total of 6.

    I worked on Viking (but not on the biological experiments), and before the mission landed I received a bunch of NASA PR type hype, including the protocols for the biological experiments. These were each (at a very high level) of the same form -

    - collect a soil sample
    - add something to it (such as water or nutrients)
    - see what happens

    and, as a control, repeat this with another sample after "sterilizing" it (by heating it).

    At the one bit level, a successful biological result would be something positive happens to the active sample, the same something doesn't happen to the control.

    The biological experimental protocols did not mention the mass spectrometer at all.

    In the actual case, each biological experiment (all 6) returned a positive result for biology "at the one bit level." The Labeled Release (LR) experiment was more or less what they were expecting, the other 2 experiments (in each case) did something, just not what was expected. In every case, the control runs had a much smaller or no reaction.

    I, following this, actually expected the Viking project to announce that life had probably been found, with positive (if not fully understood) results from the 6 biological trials. Instead, they announced a negative result, based on not finding organic matter with the mass spectrometer. The conclusion was that the positive results were due to some (unknown, and still unknown) inorganic chemistry of the surface, which went over like a wet balloon.

    To this day, I feel this was a violation of the pre-launch protocols for the biological experiments. If the mass spectrometer trumped all, why fly the biologicals? If the biological experiments were worth doing, why were they not worth investigating further? Gilbert Levin (the Labeled Release experiment PI), for example, has always felt that the LR experiment detected biology [spherix.com]. Is that not worthy of a followup ?

    Instead, this was announced in such a fashion as to make it as uninteresting as possible and the Mars science budget was cut to the point that, in the early 1980's, it was almost impossible for a student to get a job in the field. The JPL Mars crew was broken up, let go or reassigned (I was at JPL at the time, I saw it happen). Basically, a generation was lost (Viking Lander 1 died, from a lack of funding, in 1982; the next successful US mission to Mars was 1997).

    Because of the way this was handled, this problem has never been investigated further on Mars. We have had successful 4 lander / rovers since then, but no biological tests whatsoever. I must say that, since then, I have not had a lot of respect for the "conventional wisdom" of the Mars science community. In my book, this was blown, and blown badly, with serious damage to the course of science.

  • by Maow (620678) on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:03AM (#39672159) Journal

    Each Viking Lander had 3 biological experiments, for a total of 6.

    I worked on Viking (but not on the biological experiments), and before the mission landed I received a bunch of NASA PR type hype, including the protocols for the biological experiments. These were each (at a very high level) of the same form -

    - collect a soil sample
    - add something to it (such as water or nutrients)
    - see what happens

    and, as a control, repeat this with another sample after "sterilizing" it (by heating it).

    I recall your post from the last time a meta-analysis was performed concluding 75%, then ~90% likelihood of life found on Mars by Viking.

    This is the 3rd meta-analysis to conclude the same thing, yet even the science shows like CBC's Quirks & Quarks haven't addressed the issue.

    I find it very frustrating that possibly the most significant discovery in history has been virtually ignored.

  • by backslashdot (95548) on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:05AM (#39672175)

    They STILL have not sent a decent microscope .. you know of the kind any high school biology lab would have .. to Mars. And the next mission doesn't have one scheduled either. The previous mission (this decade) they did send a microscope but its magnification would not even have showed bacteria .. even tiny pollen type grains. And of course they didn't send any staining chemicals either.

  • by camperdave (969942) on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:49AM (#39672663) Journal

    "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".

    No. It is ambiguous. Does that mean the distances from the cluster members to the centroid of the cluster, or does that mean the distance from one cluster member to another? Does that apply to only one cluster, or to both?

  • Not necessarily (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Friday April 13, 2012 @09:10AM (#39672899)
    The truth is, we have absolutely no idea and the "Drake test" has too many unknowns to be of any use.

    My own suspicion, which is at least supported by events so far, is that a single inhabitable planet does not contain sufficient energy resources to allow any intelligent form of life any significant way of getting off-planet. The energy consumption needed to get to a technological civilisation may be such that by the time the necessary engineering skills exists, an energy crisis has been reached the outcome of which is either population collapse or evolution to a state more like an ant community than anything else.

  • by mbone (558574) on Friday April 13, 2012 @11:41AM (#39675315)

    The biological experimental protocols did not mention the mass spectrometer at all.

    That's pretty much unsurprising. I bet if you go back and look you'll find they didn't mention the weather instruments or the cameras either. Each set of instruments is going to have it's own protocols.

    Totally irrelevant to my argument.

    To this day, I feel this was a violation of the pre-launch protocols for the biological experiments. If the mass spectrometer trumped all, why fly the biologicals?

    Because NASA was following basic scientific procedures and guarding against false positives.

    By not following the prelaunch scientific procedures, and making it up as they went along. I don't have very much trouble with doing that, by the way, where I have trouble is assuming (and broadcasting) a certainty where in reality none exists.

     

    Because of the way this was handled, this problem has never been investigated further on Mars. We have had successful 4 lander / rovers since then, but no biological tests whatsoever.

    That's because they've changed the strategy for looking for life - away from "pin the tail on the donkey" (blind stabs in the dark like Viking) and towards more basic chemical research. Biological experiments are sexy, but they're meaningless without the proper foundation of knowledge to design them and to interpret their results.

    None of the subsequent NASA landers have had the slightest biological component. MER was so resolutely geological it didn't even have any meteorological instruments. Mars Science Laboratory (currently on the way) will (skycrane willing) finally deliver a mass spectrometer and gas chromatograph which might begin to answer the questions raised by Viking. Pardon me for pointing out what a frakking long time 30 years has been.

     

    (And seriously, have you been living in a cave the three plus decades? This is all pretty much common knowledge if you've been following Mars exploration for the last fifteen odd years rather than nursing a thirty year old grudge.)

    Oh, I follow it. I was just at the LPSC2012, for example. With all due respect, I don't think this is common knowledge among readers of slashdot, which is where I happen to be posting at this instant.

    Look, IMHO the planetary science community shot itself in the foot by being overly cautious after Viking. And for what? Do you, for example, look down on cosmologists because they are much more inclined to extrapolate from incomplete and confusing data? Part of life is to learn from your mistakes, and I regard this as a big one I wish someone would learn something from.

  • And seriously, have you been living in a cave the three plus decades? This is all pretty much common knowledge if you've been following Mars exploration for the last fifteen odd years rather than nursing a thirty year old grudge.)

    Oh, I follow it. I was just at the LPSC2012, for example.

    Your complete and total ignorance of current Martian exploration strategy says different. Worse yet, the ignorance seems willful since you dismiss the MER rovers as being "merely geological". I could on, but to sum up - you may be following Mars exploration, but you've got such a serious set of blinders on that the version you're relaying here is utterly unrelated to reality.
     

    With all due respect, I don't think this is common knowledge among readers of slashdot, which is where I happen to be posting at this instant.

    A common enough mistake on the 'net - to assume that there isn't anyone actually knowledgeable about and reading the posting. But you've been around long enough that you should know better. So, like your claims about following Martian exploration - your claims and reality are at odds with each other.
     

    Part of life is to learn from your mistakes, and I regard this as a big one I wish someone would learn something from.

    And that's the problem - they did learn from their mistakes, and you're holding it against them. They haven't spent the last thirty years doing nothing, they've spent them looking at the Viking results and studying terrestrial extremophiles so that when we went back to Mars is was with a deeper understanding of the chemical and geological processes rather than just poking around in the dark after PR. They didn't make the mistake you want them to make, which is leap blindly rather than proceeding from knowledge. NASA and JPL screwed up badly back in the 70's - and they've spent the time since trying to recover from that.

  • The MER are resolutely geological. That is not even an issue. Ask Steve Squyers what MER is doing, and he will say "geological traverses on Mars." He said exactly those words in plenary at the last LPSC2012. That's what they were intended to do, and that is what Opportunity is still doing.

    But who don't seem to understand is why we're doing the geological studies. (Actually, as I said before, it's worse than that - you don't want to understand.)
     

    But, as I said, there has been no surface biological investigation of Mars since Viking.

    But the problem is - you steadfastly refuse to understand why. Anyone who has followed Martian exploration should know the current strategy is to "follow the water", to follow the precursors to life. To understand the geology and chemistry of the planet. Because we cannot design valid biological experiments until those things are done..
     
    What you propose is to repeat what we tried, and what failed to work, thirty years ago - without offering a single reason to do so.
     
    And with that, I'm done replying to you. You're stuck in the past, and are utterly unwilling to entertain any notion contrary to your mistaken beliefs and make every effort to dismiss them as phantasms. Wake up Mr Van Winkle - it's 2012 and the world has moved on and left you behind.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 14, 2012 @03:39AM (#39683707)

    You are being a giant a-hole. You haven't offered any counter arguments at all except to insultingly suggest "you're wrong and you'd know that if you werent a) nursing a grudge b) living in a cave and c) being willfully ignorant". If you are so knowledgable, why don't you pull the stick out of your butt and explain to the rest of us bystanders what it is that MBone should aready know If he weren't apparently such a troglodyte- because I don't know either. As far as I can tell he or she is making valid arguments... And you're not.

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