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Life on Mars:

Is there life on Mars? Was there life on Mars? Most of us probably accepted the usual negative answer to that question. In this page you will learn a lot more on this topic. Prepare for some big surprises!

In this page:

No life on Mars? In this page you will learn that:

All those topics are detailed in the following sections of this page:

Click!Liquid water on the surface
Click!Fossils in Martian meteorites
Click!Life detected in 1976
Click!NASA's strange attitude
Click!Circadian rhythms
Click!Organic pigments detected on Mars
Click!Bacteria revival after hundred million years


Some scientists argue that life is impossible on the surface of Mars because it is rusted. But on the other end, there is an opened debate between scientists about the origin of rust: does iron oxide, commonly known as rust, results from biological or inorganic processes? There are more and more evidence that bacterial and virus life forms play a role in the formation of rocks rich in iron oxide!

Folk and Milliken for example confirmed in March 2000 that the microscopic shapes they found on rusted Earth rocks strongly suggest that living matter is intimately involved in the process.

Today's conditions for life:

Most scientists discarded all evidence of life on Mars at this time on the ground that the conditions for life in the past are not certain, and do not exist nowadays anyway.

But since mid-2000, we have strong evidences that there were lakes in Mars volcanic craters, that water flowed through gigantic canyons, and there are less and less doubts about the early existence of lakes, sea and oceans in the past.

This means that there are still places on Mars where all the conditions for life are met: the subsurface heat can warm up water under the surface millions of years after the surface layer became hostile. At 1 to 2 kilometers under the surface, the water can indeed heat up enough to be liquid on any of the planet location. Keep in mind that Earth bacteria are living well under miles of rocks, with metabolism based rather on hydrogen than liquid water.

Moreover, as we know that volcanism is recent on Mars, there is no doubt that ancient crater or lava flow zones near volcanoes might keep water in its liquid state closer to the surface, especially in ancient volcano crater lakes.

Also, big meteor craters might have been warm enough after their formation to maintain near-surface springs, or even lakes, for tens of thousands of years.

Most scientists think that the atmosphere pressure on Mars is so low that liquid water cannot stay on the surface and evaporates immediately. Robert Haberle points that this still is not true on few lowlands, where the air pressure is just high enough for it to exist briefly. Seven such regions at least exist where the where the pressure and temperature is high enough a few weeks each year for liquid water to exist a few minutes, which means that it can be captured by living forms on the surface.

On Mars, during the Hesperian period of postulated oceans, lakes and rivers, there would have been sufficient energy input from solar radiation to support life with the characteristics of the cyanobacteria that dominate many terrestrial and aquatic habitats on Earth, such as the cold deserts in Antarctica.

Mars meteorites:

Scientists have found more than 15 meteorites that were originally from Mars. The composition of gases found in some of these rocks is nearly identical to the composition of the gases in the Martian atmosphere measured by Viking.

Carbonate globules, found first in ALH840001, are surrounded by black and white rims. With electronic microscopes, scientists probed deeper into the carbonate globules and discovered features that look like fossilized bacteria.

Ignoring if they are truly biologic, scientists compared them to known biogenic filaments growing deep beneath the surface, in a region called the Columbia River Basalt. Examination of a thin section of the carbonate globule revealed tiny mineral grains, called magnetites, composed of iron and oxygen, that gave information about possible biogenic activity. It is a fact that magnetotactic bacteria on Earth produce magnetite grains with sizes and shapes identical to some of the magnetites found within the Martian carbonate globules.

These globules are created by bacteria on Earth as well as some chemical processes. However, the distinctive tear-shape in the Martian evidence is only created by bacteria. Some scientists are still not convinced.

The most dramatic evidence of all, pictures were shown at the press conference of worm-like structures present in the meteorite. While they are much smaller than usual terrestrial bacteria, they look very similar to Earth nanobacteria, but could also just be mineral structures. More pictures have been created since then. The initial skepticism about them was due to the fact that most scientists had not heard of similar nanobacteria found on Earth at about the same time. They ignored that there are bacteria of such small size on Earth.

Life on Mars was found in 1976:

Of the three biology instruments on each Viking Lander, the Labeled Release experiment (LR) designed by Dr. Gilbert V. Levin from Biospherics obtained results that Levin says is consistent with microbial metabolism.

Be aware of the rule of the game: the experience was carefully designed and tested on Earth. The experience conducted on Mars was a proof that life exists. This proof has been rejected because of the results of another experience that was not designed to detect life, because some scientists stated that there can be no liquid water on Mars, and also because some scientist stated that Levin's experiment found "too much" life!

Now we know that the other experiment that lead to the conclusion that there cannot be life on Mars because a spectrometer found no organic matter on the surface was a failure: the same experiment was later tested again on Earth in 1981, and could not find organic matter on Earth: (This is of course really absurd: there is organic matter everywhere, even in interstellar dust clouds...)

The tests showed that the pre-flight Viking GCMS test model could not detect organic molecules in Antarctic soil sample that contained life. Yet this would be the instrument used to render the final verdict against any positive evidence of life on Mars that might have been found by the Viking biology instruments! And on 09.26.2000, Hubble spectroscopy techniques allowed the detection of organic matters, -biological compounds!- on the surface of Mars, as explained underneath.

Moreover, another experience, a pyrolysis of Martian soil made during the Viking landing, indeed detected organic matter in the Martian soil!

Now we know that there actually still is liquid water on Mars. Levin brilliantly demonstrated that the alleged below zero temperature is a scientific error: if water is salty for example, it does not freeze at 0 but well below zero, as we all know when we salt the snowy roads. Levin also notes that the temperature measurement slightly below zero made by Viking are air temperatures several feet above the ground and not ground temperature. And he give several additional indications that liquid water might well exist on the LR experiment location. In 1998 Levin described how microorganisms can derive their water requirements from brief wetting events that he postulated occurs on the Martian surface.

And yet the vast majority of the scientific community considered Levin as a lunatic and eccentric since he attempted to - unsuccessfully - capture their interest...

Of course, the only question now is, how long can the scientific community continue to deny? Obviously not very long. I am confident that in the coming years, in the coming months, things will turn the other way round. (I write the above line on 09.20.2000).

One more proof: circadian rhythms:

In biology, circadian rhythms are cyclical variation of metabolic activities of life forms following external events such as day and night. Simply said, and as an example: most animals sleep at night.

Miller, a NASA specialist of circadian rhythm is in charge of the study of circadian rhythm perturbation in the astronauts' metabolism when they are in space during space shuttle mission.

To his great stupefaction, he observed that the LR experiment data show that the measured biological activity in Martian ground samples follow the rhythm of Martian days and nights!

Below: Graph from the 1977 LR experience showing the reaction of Martian soil, day after day: the oscillation are related to the successions of Martian days and night.

"I was completely astounded to see oscillations in the Labeled Release experiment with a period of one Martian SOL" Miller said.

LR graph.

The possibility of life ignored:

After the Viking LR experiment detected life, Levin and his Viking co-experimenter, Dr. Patricia Ann Straat submitted a number of peer reviewed scientific papers on their findings and conclusions to prestigious scientific publications such as Icarus, Science, and the Journal of Geophysical Research. But because a spectrometer aboard the Viking Landers found no organic molecules on Mars, the Viking Project scientist, Dr. Gerald Soffen, announced that the Viking biology experiments could not have found life.

After this announcement, the search for life was not a goal anymore in all the subsequent missions, no biologist was a team member of any Mars project. In fact, any further suggestion to study life on Mars has always been rejected since.

NASA's current policy about Mars is somewhat absurd. It seems opposite faction are confronting, one continues its effort to convince the media that there is nothing interesting about Mars, the other promoting any new discovery to the largest possible audience. NASA participated as consultant to the superproduction movie "Mission to Mars" and suggested to include the part about the alien origin of Mars' "face", while the private contractor in charge of photographic studies of Mars claims that the "face" is nothing but a pile of rocks. While NASA's Mars budget is only "% of its total budget, director S. Goldwyn claims it is enough and does not see the needs for more funding, at the same time his teams are struggling to build Martian probes that resemble amateur hobby kits and generally fail to achieve their mission. At the same time, some NASA scientists have wild dreams of Terraforming Mars. All in all I do not understand the real NASA intentions about Mars.

Organic pigments detected on Mars:

A Russian Scientist working for the NASA announced on September 26, 2000, that he detected organic pigments on Mars relating to ancient or existing photosynthetic organisms.

Organic pigments are the key to the survival of cyanobacteria, as we know them on Earth. One of these pigments is chlorophyll, used for the photosynthesis, the conversion of solar radiation into food.

Cyanobacteria can also tolerate the extreme damaging effect of solar UV-B by synthesizing a variety of protecting pigments which either screen or prevent the effect of the radiation, such as phycocyanin, scytonemin, mycosporine like amino acids, carotenoids and isoprenoids.

The pigments Dr. Pershin claims to have detected are porphyrins, a chlorophyll derived, and hopanoids from the carotenoid family. They are all found in cyanobacterial sedimentary deposits 3.5 Gy old on Earth. These pigments are fluorescent and their biomolecules have unique and well defined spectra which Dr. Pershin couls detect using a two-band, red/green radiance ratio technique applied to a series of Hubble Space Telescope images of Mars taken in relevant wavelengths, covering a very large area in the Utopia Planitia Mars region.

This detection method is of course not useful in determining the age of these organic compounds. Yet this is another evidence in favor of the presence of life today on Mars, as it adds up to the evidence found 24 years ago from the Viking LR experiment. It also totally contradict the 'no organic compounds, no life' statement opposed to Dr. Levin who conducted the Viking experiment: Dr. Levin always claimed that the spectrometer that could not detect organic compounds was not working properly.

Dr. Serguei M. Pershin PhD, is a principal investigator for the NASA Mars Polar Lander LIDAR experiment team, the first Russian experiment set up to work on a US spacecraft. The ICAMSR Executive Director, Barry E. DiGregorio published an exclusive article about this discovery in the September issue of the US magazine 'Spectroscopy'.

Bacteria survive hundred million years of inactivity:

A bacteria which lived 250 million years ago has been brought back to life in October 2000. It means that wherever certain condition permits it, bacteria can stay inert for hundred million years, without dying, and their spores can wake up. It is probable that they can survive indefinitely.

In an article of the New Scientist of May 17, 1997, Russell Vreeland, who discovered the born again entity now named Bacillus Permians, explains:

"It is alive and, to the best of anyone's knowledge, there's no other organism that's been around that long, its nearest ancient rivals are bacterial babes by comparison, just 25 to 40 million years old".

The bacteria has been found isolated in the Salado salt formation at Carlsbad, New Mexico, in an underground cavern used for storing nuclear waste, in salt crystals formed 250 million years ago that trapped the spores in a drop of water, and has been liberated in a sterile confinement, where it started to grow.

John Parkes, Geomicrobiologist from the Bristol University declared:

"All the laws of chemistry tell you that the complex molecules in the spores should have degraded to very simple compounds such as carbon dioxide. ... Where else are these dormant organisms waiting to be reawakened?"

My guess would be: "on Mars, for example?"

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This page was last updated on February 26, 2001.