Mankind has already found life on Mars, but could accidentally kill it

Dmytro IvancheskulLife
There is probably still life on Mars, we're just looking for the wrong

Almost 50 years ago, mankind probably found life on Mars, but inadvertently killed it. The reason for this was, oddly enough, Earth's water.

This assumption was voiced in an article for Big Think by Dirk Schulze-Makuch, professor at the Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Technical University of Berlin, Germany. He suggests that primitive life forms were found by NASA's Viking spacecraft.

In the mid-1970s, NASA sent two Viking landers equipped with instruments to the surface of Mars, which conducted the only experiments to date to detect life on another planet.

"The results of these tests were very confusing at the time and remain so to this day. Although some of them - notably the tagged release experiment (which tested microbial metabolism) and the pyrolytic release experiment (which tested organic synthesis) - were initially positive for detecting life," the scientist noted.

However, the third experiment - with gas exchange - "was not so positive."

Schulze-Makuch notes that the Viking also had an instrument to detect organic compounds on board that found traces of chlorinated organics, which at the time were interpreted as the result of pollution from Earth. Therefore, it was assumed that the Viking project did not yield a positive result on the presence of life on the red planet, or at best, was inconclusive.

As the professor notes, humanity has since continued to explore Mars, and we now know for a fact that indigenous organic compounds do exist on Mars.

"However, they are in a chlorinated form -- not the one that scientists of the Viking era expected -- and we don't know if they are the result of biological processes or some abiotic chemical reaction that has nothing to do with life," the scientist explains.

He also tells us that in the 1970s, "scientists had very little understanding of the Martian environment" and believed that adding water to the extremely dry Martian soil should "induce life to manifest itself." And that was probably a big misconception.

Schulze-Macuch explains that in extremely dry places on Earth, such as Chile's Atacama Desert, organisms evolve by adapting to survive in habitats that become more arid.

Among such organisms, there are microbes that live exclusively in salt rocks, allowing them to obtain water from the moisture in the air.

"For this reason, the microbes that live inside the salt rocks in Atakami don't need rain at all-just a certain amount of moisture in the atmosphere," the professor explains.

He suggests that if life also existed in a similar form on Mars, the idea of humans adding water might have caused that life to simply drown.

"It's if an alien spaceship found you half-dead in the desert and your would-be rescuers decided, 'Humans need water. Let's put a man in the middle of the ocean to save him! ' That wouldn't have worked either," the scientist ironically says.

He notes, however, that many of the Vikings' experiments involved applying water to soil samples, which may explain the puzzling results.

He also adds that the Vikings worked in the equatorial region of Mars, where fogs are observed, indicating high humidity. Also there, the soil is high in hydrogen peroxide and perchlorates, which can form water directly from moisture.

"In principle, the relative humidity in the morning and evening hours would be high enough for microbes to absorb moisture," the scientist suggests.

Schulze-Makuch adds that if microbial life on Mars adapted to hydrogen peroxide, it would not only allow it to obtain water from the air, but also allow it to keep water liquid at subzero Martian temperatures, preventing the formation of ice crystals that could rupture cells.

"Assuming that native Martian life could have adapted to its environment by incorporating hydrogen peroxide into its cells, this could explain the Viking results. The instrument used to detect organic compounds heated soil samples before analysis. If the Martian cells had contained hydrogen peroxide, it would have killed them. Moreover, it would have caused hydrogen peroxide to react with any organic molecules nearby to form large amounts of carbon dioxide - which is exactly what the instrument recorded," the professor noted.

He notes that to test this hypothesis, mankind needs a new mission to Mars, which will be aimed at finding life.

Earlier OBOZREVATEL also said that in the past there might have been life on Mars, but the planet "committed suicide.

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