Tag: Levin

By Michael E. Salla, Ph.D.

Viking 2 Lander photo of Martian surface in 1976

A team of scientists and mathematicians analyzing data from the 1976 Viking Mission have concluded that life on Mars was detected in one of the four experiments conducted by the two robotic landers. Their report, “Complexity Analysis of the Viking Labeled Release Experiments,” released last week in the International Journal of Aeronautical and Space Sciences” has resurrected a controversy over the results of the Viking Mission’s “Labeled Released experiment” designed by Dr Gilbert Levin. The Viking mission was the only Mars mission so far that was designed by NASA to detect life. Dr Levin was confident that the experiment had detected microbial life on Mars, but his NASA colleagues disagreed and his startling finding was forgotten in the Martian sands of time. This new scientific investigation has concluded that Levin was right all along.

Wikipedia summarizes NASA’s official position on the “Labeled Released experiment” and the position taken by Levin’s colleagues back in 1976:

In the [Labeled Release] LR experiment, a sample of Martian soil was inoculated with a drop of very dilute aqueous nutrient solution. The nutrients (7 molecules that were Miller-Urey products) were tagged with radioactive 14C. The air above the soil was monitored for the evolution of radioactive 14CO2 gas as evidence that microorganisms in the soil had metabolized one or more of the nutrients.…. The result was quite a surprise following the negative results of the first two tests, with a steady stream of radioactive gases being given off by the soil immediately following the first injection. The experiment was done by both Viking probes the first using a sample from the surface exposed to sunlight and the second probe taking the sample from underneath a rock both initial injections came back positive. Subsequent injections a week later did not, however, elicit the same reaction, and the result remains inconclusive.

Here is how Irene Klotz from Discovery News described the novel approach taken by scientists in the newly released report:

Researchers crunched raw data collected during runs of the Labeled Release experiment, which looked for signs of microbial metabolism in soil samples scooped up and processed by the two Viking landers. General consensus of scientists has been that the experiment found geological, not biological, activity.
The new study took a different approach. Researchers distilled the Viking Labeled Release data, provided as hard copies by the original researchers, into sets of numbers and analyzed the results for complexity. Since living systems are more complicated than non-biological processes, the idea was to look at the experiment results from a purely numerical perspective. They found close correlations between the Viking experiment results’ complexity and those of terrestrial biological data sets. They say the high degree of order is more characteristic of biological, rather than purely physical processes.

The team of scientists are very conclusive in their 2012 report:

The only extraterrestrial life detection experiments ever conducted were the three which were components of the 1976 Viking Mission to Mars. Of these, only the Labeled Release experiment obtained a clearly positive response…. We have applied complexity analysis to the Viking LR data….We conclude that the complexity pattern seen in active experiments strongly suggests biology while the different pattern in the control responses is more likely to be non-biological….These analyses support the interpretation that the Viking LR experiment did detect extant microbial life on Mars.

One of the scientists, Dr Joseph Miller a neuropharmacologist and biologist with the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, was interviewed by Discovery News and said: “On the basis of what we’ve done so far, I’d say I’m 99 percent sure there’s life there.”

So are the results from this new scientific investigation of the Viking data conclusive, was life discovered on Mars? A 99 % degree of certainty is very high, and while critics might argue is not conclusive, it would at the very least, have required follow up life detection experiments by NASA over the last three decades. NASA however has not designed such experiments ever since the 1976 Viking Mission. Why not?

According to NASA critic, Richard Hoagload, co-author of Dark Mission: The Secret History of NASA, NASA is not interested in discovering whether life exists or has existed on Mars. Such a discovery would be too disturbing for human civilization as we know it, as starkly revealed in the 1961 NASA Brookings Report presented to the US Congress that Hoagland helped bring to public attention back in 1993. NASA’s real mission appears to be one of merely justifying funding for future space missions that do nothing to disturb the scientific consensus that we are alone in the universe. NASA data pointing to evidence of life in our solar system is systematically ignored, censored or simply disappears. Scientists challenging this policy are silenced, discredited, and/or fired. NASA’s next robotic mission, Mars Science Laboratory (aka Curiosity) again does not have any life detection experiments on board. It’s hard not to disagree with Hoagland’s conclusion that NASA’s real mission is a dark one after all – don’t do anything to prove that life exists elsewhere in our solar system. Thankfully, more and more scientists do not agree, as reevaluation of the 1976 Viking Mission data clearly shows.

© Copyright 2012. Michael E. Salla. Exopolitics.org

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