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Mars organics get new lease on life

Viking mission may have destroyed compounds that make biology possible while trying to detect them

By
3:32pm, September 8, 2010

Martian soil could contain the building blocks of carbon-based life after all, a new study suggests, despite the negative results of an analysis performed by the Viking missions 34 years ago.

When the Viking landers touched down on Mars in 1976 and scooped up soil samples, scientists were surprised that the two craft failed to unearth evidence that the Red Planet contained any organic compounds. The apparent lack of organic molecules — a basic requirement for carbon-based organisms — helped to cement the notion of Mars as an entity that would not easily support life.

But a new study, which relies on soil samples from Earth, now suggests that the Viking craft may have found organic compounds from Mars but failed to recognize them. The finding represents a sea change in the way many scientists think about Mars and suggests a specific strategy for searching for vestiges of life on the planet, says study coauthor Rafael Navarro-González of the Natio

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