This view from the Viking 2 exhibits Utopia Planitia on Mars in 1976. Some researchers assume that the Viking lander’s major instrument could have burned up natural molecules in collected soil samples.
Recently, NASA brought on fairly a commotion when it announced that its Curiosity rover found natural molecules — which make up life as we all know it — on Mars. This adopted the first confirmation of natural molecules on Mars in 2014. But as a result of small, carbon-rich meteorites so frequently pelt the Red Planet, scientists have suspected for many years that organics exist on Mars. But researchers had been surprised in 1976, when NASA despatched two Viking landers to Mars to seek for organics for the primary time and discovered completely none.
Scientists did not know what to make of the Viking findings — how might there be no organics on Mars? “It was just completely unexpected and inconsistent with what we knew,” Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, informed New Scientist. [Viking 1: The Historic First Mars Landing in Pictures]
A doable clarification arose when NASA’s Phoenix lander found perchlorate on Mars in 2008. This is a salt used to make fireworks on Earth; it turns into extremely explosive below excessive temperatures. And whereas the floor of Mars is not too heat, the principle instrument aboard the Viking landers, the gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (GCMS), needed to warmth the Martian soil samples to seek out natural molecules. And as a result of perchlorate is in the soil, the instrument would have burned up any organics in the samples throughout this course of.
The discovery of perchlorate reignited scientists’ convictions that the Viking landers might have discovered organics on Mars. “You get some new insight, and you realize that everything you thought was wrong,” McKay mentioned.
However, discovering perchlorate did not present concrete proof that the Viking landers discovered and unintentionally destroyed natural molecules, so the investigation continued.
The number of natural molecules that Curiosity just lately found on the Red Planet included chlorobenzene. This molecule is created when carbon molecules burn with perchlorate, so scientists suspect that it might have been created when the soil samples had been burnt, in accordance with New Scientist.
Researchers had been impressed by this oblique proof to dig a bit deeper and discover extra proof that the Viking landers might have discovered and then destroyed organics. In a new study, printed in June in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, Melissa Guzman of the LATMOS analysis heart in France, McKay and a handful of collaborators revisited the Viking lander information to see if something was missed.
This group discovered that the Viking landers additionally detected chlorobenzene, which the researchers mentioned might have shaped from burning natural materials in the soil samples.
Still, this isn’t proof that the Viking landers discovered natural molecules and then unintentionally burned them, the researchers informed New Scientist. Even the scientists who accomplished this investigation are divided.
Guzman mentioned she nonetheless is not utterly satisfied that the chlorobenzene they detected shaped when organics in Martian soil had been burned. She mentioned that the molecule might have come from Earth aboard NASA tools.
But regardless of this skepticism, others are satisfied; “this paper really seals the deal,” Daniel Glavin, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center who was not concerned in the examine, informed New Scientist.