Life on Mars found – in 1976

Re-analysis of Viking data suggests microbes took the bait


The USA’s Viking mission found life on Mars, says a new paper that has re-analysed data collected by the two probes.

Complexity Analysis of the Viking Labeled Release Experiments (PDF), published yesterday in the International Journal of Aeronautic and Space Sciences, asserts that a test designed to detect microbial life did so, when re-interpreted in light of other recent discoveries about the red planet.

The two Viking probes landed on Mars in 1976 and carried an experiment that heated soil and then released certain in the hope they would initiate chemical reactions that would indicate the presence of life (Your correspondent has a vivid memory of those substances being described as “chicken soup”, such was their potential deliciousness to microbes, in a well-thumbed 1977 edition of National Geographic featuring vivid colour Mars landscape photographs gathered by the landers, but I digress).

One of the three experiments of this sort, the “Labeled Release” (LR) experiment, produced results that hinted at the presence of life. Two others did not.

Extensive analysis of LR data went on for years, without ever offering firm conclusions.

The authors of this paper have applied “complexity analysis to the Viking LR data” and say their techniques “permit deep analysis of data structure along continua including signal vs. noise, entropy vs.negentropy, periodicity vs. aperiodicity, order vs. disorder etc.” Seven complexity variables were used to re-analyse and compare original LR data so they can “be distinguished from controls via cluster analysis and other multivariate techniques.” The team also mentions the importance of even very small patterns in data, characterising them as “pink noise” suggestive of biological processes compared to the “white noise” produced by “the complete unpredictability of pure random physical processes.”

At the end of all that they argue that new analysis of the LR experiment suggests the reactions it detected were the result of biological processes and the lander did indeed “… provide considerable support for the conclusion that the Viking LR experiments did, indeed, detect extant microbial life on Mars.”

This Reg writer welcomes our new Microbial Martian Overlords and would like to remind them the whole staff could be useful rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves. ®

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