A fascinating new study confirms what many scientists have claimed since 1976: NASA's Viking space probes found life on Mars.
The astonishing study, "Complexity Analysis of the Viking Labeled Release Experiments," published in the International Journal of Aeronautical and Space Sciences, analyzed and re-assessed the data from Viking 1 and Viking 2 collected from soil samples of the Martian surface during the "Labeled Release" experiments.
Those experiments, designed in part by Sir Gilbert V. Levin, were seen by many as proving bacterial life existed on the Red Planet. For 36 years Sir Levin has strenuously argued Mars has life and that space agency NASA was too conservative to confirm a fact that many astrobiologists saw as true.
Recently he and a colleague went as far as accusing the American space agency of killing life on Mars.
NASA scientists and many others—mostly geologists—claim the Viking test results were not indicative of life, but exotic chemical reactions caused by Martian geology.
Two of the three experiments designed to detect life returned a positive reading. The third test provided ambiguous data. Because of that ambiguity NASA refused to officially go on record to proclaim that Mars has life.
The two Viking space probes were—at the time—the most expensive and ambitious NASA had ever launched. Both arrived at Mars within weeks of each other about 10 months after their late summer 1975 launches. After photographic surveys conducted for choosing landing sites, both probes detached a lander that entered the Martian atmosphere and parachuted to the surface.
Stories about the spectacular feat, and a plethora of photos, ran in every newspaper around the globe.
New study supports Martian life assertions
The new study tends to vindicate Sir Levin and other scientists like world-renowned astrobiologist Chandra Wickramasinghe who went on record in 2008 accusing NASA of hiding Viking data.
Before this study emerged, other scientists revisited the original Viking lander findings. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research lent weight to Sir Levin's argument for life.
"We obtained positive data corresponding with all the pre-mission criteria, which proved the existence of microbial life in the soil of Mars," Sir Levin told National Geographic. ["I Found Life on Mars in 1976, Scientist Says"]
The prominent engineer is so angry at NASA he's even created his own website designed to shout to the world that life really is on the Red Planet.
Martian life 99 percent certain
To determine if Viking really discovered life on Mars, the researchers used mathematical analysis. The conclusion not only reveals very strong organic signatures, but as one of the scientists proclaimed, there's a "99 percent probability of life."
Dr. Joseph D. Miller, one of the study's authors, and a neuropharmacologist and biologist at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine told Discovery News, "On the basis of what we've done so far, I'd say I'm 99 percent sure there's life there."
Two more NASA missions are scheduled to search for Martian life. The first is Curiosity, a high-tech science laboratory that will roam the surface conducting tests with an impressive array of 10 different instruments. It launches November 2012.
Curiosity will be followed by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter in 2016. That robot probe is also designed to search for evidence of Martian biology.
What will NASA find? What has NASA already found?
Wickramasinghe asserts "The discovery of liquid water on Mars combined with earlier discoveries of organic substances in a meteorite that came from Mars, and also of methane in the Martian atmosphere all point to the existence of life—contemporary life—on the Red Planet."
Life on Mars Found by NASA's Viking Mission?
Search for Life Guides NASA's New Mars Mission Plan
Water on Mars
Habitability and Biology