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Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall


Thursday, November 14, 2019

Life on Mars, new findings and the Viking experiments of 1976


I know that this post has nothing whatsover to do with the subject of this blog, but I have to admit that since my twelve-year-old eyes saw the amazing photos of Mars taken by Mariner 9 back in 1971, the possibility of life on Mars has always excited my imagination.


Then came the Viking missions and their experiments designed to find life on Mars (1976). The results were contradictory and surprising:


In the LR (labeled release) experiment, Mars soil was scooped up by the Viking probes, placed in a vat, laced with nutrients -to feed any possible microbes living in the soil. Nutrients that were tagged with a radioactive isotope of carbon (carbon-14 or C-14). The theory was that as the Martian microorganisms fed on the C-14 tagged nutrients, they'd release byproducts such as methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2), the radioactive carbon would be bound into these molecules due to the processing by the microbes and sensors would detect the radioactive gases.


Both Viking landers carried the mini lab onboad and both probes 4,000 miles apart (6.400 km) detected signs of biological activity. Of course some non-biological processes could yield the same results such as soil activated by the solar ultraviolet radiation, so samples were taken from spots shaded by rocks from the UV radiation: they too displayed "biological activity".


Another test was run in which the soil was cooked at 160°C (320°F) to kill any microbes. Then the test was run again: no biological gases were detected probably because the heating killed the Martian microbes. Heating up to 50°C (122°F) also stopped bio-activity.


This meant life right? Well no, there was a gas chromatograph — mass spectrometer (GCMS) experiment that could detect organic compounds in the soil. It detected none. In fact it found that Mars had even less of these compounds than the Moon soil recovered by the Apollo missions. This was surprising (organic compounds are very common all across the Solar System) and apparently the GCMS was working correctly. The conclusion: no organic compounds meant no life. Case closed.


A few weeks ago I cama across a blog post in Scientific American (I'm Convinced We Found Evidence of Life on Mars in the 1970s - The Labeled Release experiment on the Viking mission reported positive results, although most have dismissed them as inorganic chemical reactions) it was published on Oct. 10, 2019 and written by Gilbert V. Levin, an engineer who was a principal experimenter of the Viking LR experiment. The article is worth reading. In it, Levin mentions the following: (quote)


  • Methane has been measured in the Martian atmosphere; microbial methanogens could be the source;
  • The rapid disappearance of methane from the Martian atmosphere requires a sink, possibly supplied by methanotrophs that could co-exist with methanogens on the Martian surface;
  • Ghost-like moving lights, resembling will-O’-the-wisps on Earth that are formed by spontaneous ignition of methane, have been video-recorded on the Martian surface;

(unquote)


Yesterday I read a news release that led me to a paper on Methane and Oxygen and their odd behavior on Mars: Seasonal variations in atmospheric composition as measured in Gale Crater, Mars, published 12 Nov. 2019, by Melissa G. Trainer Michael H. Wong et al., https://doi.org/10.1029/2019JE006175


The paper looks into the data recorded by the Curiosity Mars rover on how the concentration of certain gases changes over the course of Martian seasons. They found that:


"The mixing ratio of O2 shows significant seasonal and interannual variability, suggesting an unknown atmospheric or surface process at work... Oxygen has been observed to show significant seasonal and year‐to‐year variability, suggesting an unknown atmospheric or surface process at work. "


"...Surprisingly, however, we have found that O2 does not demonstrate the predictable seasonal behavior of the other major components... these are the first precise in situ measurements of O2, revealing a surprising seasonal and interannual variation that cannot be accounted for in current chemical models. Though Mars has the potential to generate significant O2 release due to abundances of oxidants in/at its surface, the mechanisms by which O2 could be quickly generated and then quickly destroyed are completely unknown."

Biological and natural processes can explain oxygen in the Martian atmosphere.



Both charts from NASA


But not only oxygen displays an odd seasonal variability, so does methane!:


"... it can be seen that both trace gases [oxygen and methane] exhibit seasonal variations with much greater amplitudes than Ar and N2 ... The observed behavior of either molecule is not currently understood,and a strong relationship between the two might inform the root cause of observed changes in both O2 and CH4, such as the potential seepage or release mechanisms hypothesized for CH4 [Moores et al., 2019]..."


Since both gases can be produced by life forms -on Earth- the same could be happening on Mars. But the rising and lowering of these gases could also be due to natural non-biological phenomena -yet unknown.



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

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