_X_ NOT ALIENS
The new analysis centers on one of the three experiments carried by the probe: the Labeled Release (LR) experiment. This instrument searched for signs of life by mixing samples of Martian soil with droplets of water containing nutrients and radioactive carbon. If the soil contained microbes, the reasoning went, they would metabolize these carbon atoms and nutrients and release either methane gas or radioactive carbon dioxide, either of which would tip off the probes that life existed in the soil.
That’s exactly what happened. But other experiments aboard Viking didn’t back up the LR, and NASA scientists had to dismiss the LR’s findings as anomalous.
In 1976 the NASA Viking landers took samples of soil on Mars and tested them for signs of organic carbon. A reinterpretation of the results now suggests the samples did contain organic compounds, but the results were not understood because of the strong oxidation effects of perchlorate, a salt now known to be found in Martian soils.
In the Viking tests the Martian soil was heated sufficiently to vaporize organic molecules in the soil and the resultant gases and vapors were analyzed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Chlorohydrocarbons were found at landing site 1 and 2, but they were dismissed at the time as terrestrial contaminants, even though they were not found at the same levels in blank runs.
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