Life on Mars? We’ve Been Wrong Before

Thirty-six years ago, the Viking 2 Lander picked up some dirt and did some donuts on the surface of Mars. Based on the computational data recorded then (and the fact that no one came out and kicked the lander off of their lawn), the Red Planet was stamped with a big "nothing to see here" sign; no life was found. But reevaluation of the data is changing all of that, according to a newly published paper at IJASS.

So where's the life? Well, that question is a lot simpler to ask than to answer.

Scientists came to their original no-life verdict after running tests on the soil samples that the Viking 2 returned with. The tests looked for microbial metabolism in soil--that is, evidence that something once lived there and left figurative wrappers and whatnot lying around when it left. It seemed pretty conclusive at the time that the evidence pointed to a pristine Martian landscape, untouched by skateboarding hipster microbes or bacteria.

But wait! An international team of mathematicians and scientists took a fresh look at the data, and so far favors a different conclusion. "On the basis of what we've done so far, I'd say I'm 99 percent sure there's life there," Joseph Miller, a researcher with the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, told Discovery.com.

What'd they do, then?

The teams looked for complexity. Purely physical processes--normal geological events such as earthquakes, volcanoes, water erosion, and wind erosion--are not that complex. However, biological processes tend toward very-high-complexity data sets. The researchers found that the data correlated pretty well with existing examples of biological data sets on Earth. While not bulletproof, the science is pretty compelling, especially to someone who's seen War of the Worlds about a billion times.

So what does that mean for us? So far, not a whole lot. More experiments need to be run, more evidence catalogued, and maybe another Mars mission or two completed. I'm of the feeling that we'll eventually find that life on Earth had a lot to do with life on Mars long ago, and that the whole cosmic soup of a galaxy is rife with old life just being flung around with wild abandon.

After all, who doesn't want to believe?

You can read the entire paper in all of its glory.

[ijass.org via Discovery.com / Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (CC BY 2.0)]

Jason Kennedy is actually terrified of the idea of there being or having been life on Mars. There's enough here on Earth that's crawling, slithering or skittering towards him with the intent to poison, maim or kill. We don't need an entire other planet of life to fear, do we? You can keep up with him via Twitter and Google+.

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