Ooops! We’ve killed the Martians

Space probes have already met the Martians – and killed them by drowning or frying them, some scientists believe. The wipeout, 30 years ago, was an accident because the two Viking landers were looking for a type of life different to the Martians’ actual make-up.

Nasa image of Viking 2 on MarsProfessor Dirk Schulze-Makuch, of Washington State University, has taken a fresh look at data recorded by Nasa’s Viking probes in 1976.

He told the American Astronomical Society, in Seattle, that he believes it indicates the presence of living alien microbes formed from a mix of water and hydrogen peroxide – hair bleach.

The robot Vikings carried our experiments on Mars that would have killed these Martians. One poured water on the soil and would have drowned them. Another heated the soil so much that it would have baked them alive.

Professor Schulze-Makuch said scientists working on the Viking projects were not looking for organisms that rely on hydrogen peroxide, because no one was aware that such organisms could exist. Since then, discoveries of so-called extremophiles on Earth have shown that organisms can thrive in extreme conditions such as radioactivesites and volcanic vents.

The professor and colleague Dr Joop Houtkooper, of Giessen, Germany, argue that hydrogen peroxide-containing organisms can explain nearly all the results observed in the Viking experiments. “If the hypothesis is true, it would mean that we killed the Martian microbes during our first extraterrestrial contact, due to ignorance,” said Professor Schulze-Makuch.

Nasa’s next mission to the surface of Mars is due for launch in August this year. Called Phoenix, it willl land near the martian north pole and dig into the soil for evidence of life.

Nasa has revealed plans for two new unmanned missions to Mars. One called MAVEN – Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission – will be a weather satellite for Mars, investigating its climate and measuring changes in the planet’s upper atmosphere.

The other, tagged The Great Escape mission, will also examine how the atmosphere works but will look for indicators of life, such as methane gas, as well. Nasa is spending two million dollars on initial nine-month preparations for each of the missions.

Nasa also agreed to fund a scientist to join Europe’s own mission to land on the Red Planet. ExoMars is due for launch in 2013, carrying a rover to drive around on Mars and dig for life. Alian Wang will use instruments on the mission to study the make-up of Martian soil and look for signs of biological activity.

Picture: The Nasa images shows Viking 2 on the surface of Mars.

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Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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