Did We Accidentally Discover and Extinguish Martian Life Half a Century Ago?

One scientist has revisited a famous experiment conducted by the Viking 2 lander all the way back in the 1970s.

With two car-sized rovers and even a helicopter drone currently exploring the Martian landscape, it’s easy to forget that it hasn’t been that long since the idea of landing a spacecraft on the surface of Mars seemed like little more than science fiction.

NASA first accomplished this feat with its Viking landers – two ambitious robotic probes that not only succeeded in landing on the surface but even attempted to search for evidence of alien life.

One of their experiments, which aimed to find organic molecules by mixing water and nutrients with samples of the Martian soil, had initially returned promising results, but after an extensive analysis of the findings it was eventually determined that the result was most likely a false positive.

Not everyone however is convinced that this was the case.

Astrobiologist Prof Dirk Schulze-Makuch of the Technical University Berlin now believes that the experiment designed to find life in the Martian soil may have inadvertently killed it.

The key mistake, he argues, was adding water – something that would likely even kill microbes found eking out an existence in some of the driest environments on our own planet.

“If the Martian cells contained hydrogen peroxide, that would have killed them,” he wrote.

“Moreover, it would have caused the hydrogen peroxide to react with any organic molecules in the vicinity to form large amounts of carbon dioxide — which is exactly what the instrument detected.”