Monday, January 08, 2007

Early Spacecraft May have Killed Martian Life Form

Alien Crushed By Lander
The Associated Press

Microbes were found in 1970s but destroyed in tests, scientist thinks.
     WASHINGTON | Two NASA space probes that visited Mars 30 years ago may have stumbled upon alien microbes on the Red Planet and inadvertently killed them, a scientist has theorized.

The problem was the Viking space probes of 1976-77 were looking for the wrong kind of life and didn’t recognize what they found, the researcher said in a paper presented Sunday at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.

Last month, scientists excitedly reported that new photographs of Mars showed geologic changes that suggest water occasionally flows there — the most tantalizing sign that Mars is hospitable to life.

In the ’70s, the Viking mission found no signs of life. But it was looking for Earth-like life, in which salt water is the internal liquid of living cells. Given the cold, dry conditions of Mars, that life could have evolved on Mars with the key internal fluid being a mix of water and hydrogen peroxide, said Dirk Schulze-Makuch, author of the new research.

The Viking experiments wouldn’t have noticed alien hydrogen-peroxide-based life.

One experiment poured water on soil, essentially drowning hydrogen-peroxide-based life, he said, and another heated the soil, but that would have baked Martian microbes.

“The problem was that they didn’t have any clue about the environment on Mars at that time,” said Schulze-Makuch, a geology professor at Washington State University.

He acknowledges that he can’t prove that Martian microbes exist, but given the planet’s environment and how evolution works, “it makes sense.”

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