Martian Life: Old News?

on August 25, 2007

LiveScience: “Claim of Martian Life Called ‘Bogus’

Some News to Note readers may have read or heard reports of a controversial new study that postulates that NASA Mars landers during the 1970s discovered life, albeit without anyone’s notice until last week. Although the claim was largely ignored, LiveScience offers some perspective on the announcement, including a quote from University of Colorado microbiologist Norman Pace, who says the claim “sounds bogus.”

The duo argue that organisms based on hydrogen peroxide and water could survive in the extremes of the Martian atmosphere.

The hypothesis was presented by Joop Houtkooper of the University of Giessen in Germany at this week’s European Planetary Science Congress. Essentially, Houtkooper and Washington State University’s Dirk Schulze-Makuch suggest that soil gathered in the ’70s by NASA’s Viking landers might have contained life because of “rises in oxygen and carbon dioxide gas” in the samples. The duo argue that organisms based on hydrogen peroxide and water could survive in the extremes of the Martian atmosphere, and that the breakdown of organic material in a peroxide solution could produce oxygen and carbon dioxide gas that could be quantified.

Pace counters varyingly, replying that he does not “consider the chemical results to be particularly credible in light of the harsh conditions that Mars offers” and that “hydrogen peroxide inside cells is deadly in terrestrial kinds of cells.” Additionally, the LiveScience article explains that

[f]or Pace and many other scientists, the definitive experiment performed by the Viking landers was the gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) test, which was capable of identifying substances by their chemical makeup. That test failed to turn up evidence of organic compounds.

Certainly, we are glad that this latest claim of Martian life (the latest in a long, long line) is not meriting significant attention—but somehow we doubt that this will be the last claim of extraterrestrial life.

Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us.

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