12051 Indian Creek Court
Beltsville, MD 20705
For additional information, contact
Gilbert V. Levin, Ph.D., President
July 30, 1997
VIKING SCIENTIST CLAIMS DETECTION OF LIFE ON MARS
Pathfinder Data and Pictures Said to be Consistent with Claims
In a presented at the International Society for Optical Engineering
in San Diego today, Viking life detection experimenter Dr. Gilbert V. Levin,
President of Biospherics Incorporated, said he has now concluded that his
experiment detected microbial life on Mars 21 years ago. Based on a re-evaluation
of his and other Viking results coupled with new Martian and Earth relevant
scientific data, Levin stated: "The only conclusion consistent with all
the known facts is that the Viking Labeled Release Experiment discovered
microorganisms in the soil of Mars." Levin also claimed that his paper,
written before Pathfinder landed on Mars, is supported by images and data
from that spacecraft.
The paper presents the scientific findings supporting this new
conclusion, which just appeared in a chapter written by Dr. Levin in the
book, Mars: The Living Planet, by Barry DiGregorio, published this week
(Frog, Ltd., Berkeley, California).
Until now, Levin's strongest statement about his 1976 Viking Mission
findings was that it was "more probable that not" that the Labeled Release
(LR) Experiment had detected life on Mars. Even this inconclusive statement
made 10 years ago still causes considerable controversy. NASA has contended
that one or more chemicals in the Martian surface material had mimicked
life in Levin's experiment. The majority of interested scientists agreed
with this simpler explanation of Viking's most intriguing discovery. A
number of reasons were cited to explain why life could not exist on Mars.
Only a small minority of microbiologists and planetary scientists supported
Levin's interpretation of the data. In today's presentation, Levin said
that, over the years, and particularly very recently, the obstacles to
the existence of life on Mars and the proposed chemical explanations of
the LR results have fallen one by one.
The strongest argument against life on Mars came from another
Viking experiment, the Gas Chromatograph Mass-Spectrometer (GCMS). Designed
to identify organic matter expected in the Martian surface material, the
GCMS reported there was none. Since organic matter is the stuff of life,
it was widely concluded that Mars was sterile. The GCMS barrier was removed
by the exciting recent reports of organic matter and fossilized remains
of microorganisms in meteorites believed to have come from Mars. When asked
why the Viking GCMS had not found organic matter, a top NASA official explained
that the instrument sent to Mars was not sensitive enough to detect the
amount of organic matter in the meteorites.
The chemical theories also suffered a major setback. Hydrogen
peroxide, perhaps in combination with other chemicals in the Martian surface
material, had been theorized to have produced false life signals when tested
in the LR. Recently, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center scientists reported
that highly sensitive Earth telescope experiments found no evidence of
hydrogen peroxide on Mars. The finding capped years of unsuccessful attempts
by many researchers to duplicate the Mars LR results through chemistry,
including many varieties of peroxides.
The reported lack of liquid water on the Martian surface was another
"proof" that life could not exist on Mars. Water was said to occur on the
surface only as ice, which, upon warming, immediately became vapor because
of low atmospheric pressure. However, Levin presented Viking Orbiter and
Lander data proving that liquid water does occur on the surface of the
Red Planet. Viking data on temperature and atmospheric pressure at the
Martian surface prove that water occurs in liquid form in the upper few
millimeters of the soil. Thus, the dew-deposited ground frost shown each
morning in the Viking images melts into liquid water as the temperature
rises with the sun. The liquid would be available to microorganisms each
Next, the concept that the environment of Mars was too harsh for
life fell to a stream of discoveries of life on Earth in places long believed
uninhabitable. Long thought to constitute merely a "thin film" around Earth,
life is now known to inhabit the heights and depths of our planet. Microorganisms
were found to have survived thousands of years in permafrost thousands
of feet beneath the ground surface. Others were found living in cold and
hot deserts inside rocks. Life was found at temperatures far above previously
supposed limits; in sunless deep waters where the only source of energy
is water and rock; and life forms never before known were found, requiring
reconstruction of scientists' basic diagrams of evolution of the species.
Microorganisms were reported to be recovered after millions of years in
ultra-dry storage. Microbes have even been reported living in organic solvents
devoid of liquid water. There is now ample evidence that life on Earth
has survived environments far harsher than those at the Viking landing
sites, including the gradual flooding of our atmosphere with the highly
toxic gas, oxygen-which Earth life evolved to survive and utilize.
Recent announcements concerning the Martian meteorites have revived
the whole issue of life on Mars. Meteorite EETA79001 is reported to contain
evidence for life dating from only 600,000 years ago, a time well after
any major change in the Martian environment. If life were on Mars only
600,000 years ago, most biologists would fully expect it to be there today.
But the Martian meteorites do something even more important to provide
credibility to Levin's claim. They remove the ultimate barrier to accepting
the evidence for life on Mars. This is the requirement for a separate origin
of life, a process far more complex, and, therefore more unbelievable,
than any chemical scenario, even though the latter remains to be demonstrated.
The meteorites support the "Panspermia" theory proposed by the 19th century
Swedish Nobel Laureate, Svente Arrhenius, who said that life travels through
space, landing on planets and infecting those with receptive conditions.
Levin points out that, even if the meteorites containing biological evidence
are not from Mars, they will still have proved that microbial life travels
between planets. Once material is dislodged from a planet by meteor impact,
any microorganisms in it would be preserved by the cold vacuum of space,
the conditions used in laboratories to preserve microorganisms in dormancy
for long periods. Such microorganisms can then be fully resuscitated by
placing them in a favorable environment again, such as might occur upon
impacting another planet.