NASA may have discovered, accidentally destroyed organics on Mars in 1976

Rodiano Bonacci
Luglio 12, 2018

While giant sand dunes have been documented in many images of the Red Planet, these new geologic features were first discovered on Earth in 2016 and only observed on Mars earlier this year.

"But researchers were stunned in 1976, when NASA sent two Viking landers to Mars to search for organics for the first time and found absolutely none", the report said late on Wednesday. The landers flew together, separated, and conducted three biological experiments created to look for possible signs of life. There is no other explanation for why the Viking mission failed to provide proof of organic matter on the Red Planet. This incident had since been a scientific mystery for 40 years.

"NASA's Viking Project found a place in history when it became the first USA mission to land a spacecraft safely on the surface of Mars and return images of the surface".

They found that the Viking landers also detected chlorobenzene.

However, in 2008, NASA's Phoenix lander found perchlorate, a type of salt used for making fireworks, on Mars.

The US space agency in June announced that its robot explorer Curiosity found organic molecules in rocks formed three billion years ago - a discovery that could indicate that there was life on the Red Planet at that time.

Now, the team of scientists suspected that two things may have happened. One - and the proposition supported by the paper's lead author - was that since the main instrument aboard the Viking landers, called the gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer or GCMS, needed to heat the Martian soil samples to find the organic matters, it also exposed the perchlorate in the soil to high temperatures.

"It was just completely unexpected and inconsistent with what we knew", Chris McKay, Planetary Scientist at NASA " s Ames Research Center, was quoted as saying. These vapors were the ones subjected to further analysis.

"This molecule is created when carbon molecules burn with perchlorate, so scientists suspect that it could have been created when the soil samples were burnt during Viking exploration", the report adds.

Not all scientists involved in the study supported McKay's position.

In a separate study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, a team from LATMOS research centre in France revisited the Viking lander data. She said another possibility was that the chlorobenzene could have come from Earth aboard the NASA equipment.

However, scientists are still divided over calling this as sufficient proof.

"We conclude the chlorine component of the chlorobenzene is martian, and the carbon molecule of the chlorobenzene is consistent with a martian origin, though we can not fully rule out instrument contamination", the team concluded in the paper.

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