The Mars Files

Last Updated 14/11/04 19:26

When NASA's Viking 1 spacecraft [below right] orbited Mars on 25th July 1976, whilst searching for a suitable area for the next Mars landing, it photographed a region called Cydonia - a region of Mars which is comparatively free of craters and is made up of rocky mesas. When the photographs were released to the public, one in particular - No.035A72 - attracted a lot of interest on a global basis. This particular photograph of one of Cydonia's many mesas had a striking resemblance to a human face with headdress.
Some people even speculated that it was not a natural rock formation at all but an artificial construction or monument, which was perhaps built by beings from elsewhere in the galaxy.  Some suggested that it was constructed by human beings - from sometime in the future.
Further to this, claims were made that analysis of the Cydonia photograph showed the existence of pyramids, a fortress and a collection of structures - purported to be evidence of a town or city. 
Needless to say, NASA gave no credence at all to these weird theories and on 5th April 1998 the Mars Global Surveyor, whilst orbiting Mars, took images of Cydonia at ten times the resolution of the original photos. The high resolution images showed the "Face of Cydonia" to be nothing more than a natural feature.

The original NASA Viking photo showing the "Face" on Mars. Overall the "Face" measures about one and a half miles wide and one and a quarter miles long. A computer enhanced image of the "Face". Geographical features on the surface of Mars - some claim that they are "pyramids".


A "Martian pyramid" ?

The "Face" photographed in 1998 by the Mars Global Surveyor in 1998.

However, the discussions and arguments regarding the existence of (recent) life on Mars continue and some of the images received from craft orbiting the planet do warrant explanation. Some images seem to indicate plant life, others some form of animal life and some illustrate geometric patterns.

Unexplained photo's - on the surface of Mars

Could this be form of plant life?  

Could this be form of plant life?

A segmented, tubular "object" - on Mars

An object that seems to have a perfect circular hole in it - on Mars.

Update – 30th May 2003.

Historic Mars lander 'did find life'

By Helen Briggs  BBC News Online science reporter

However, the discussions and arguments regarding the existence of (recent) life on Mars continue and some of the images received from craft orbiting the planet do warrant explanation. Some images seem to indicate plant life, others some form of animal life and some illustrate geometric patterns.

Claims have re-emerged that the US space agency (Nasa) did find signs of life on Mars during the historic Viking landings of 1976.
Dr Gil Levin, a former mission scientist, says he now has the evidence to prove it, just days before the US and Europe send new expeditions to the Red Planet.
The United States and Russia have spent billions since the 1960s on a handful of space craft designed to land on Mars. Only three have succeeded so far: the two Viking probes in the 1970s and Mars Pathfinder in 1997. In 1976, the world was gripped by excitement when a robotic spacecraft touched down on Mars for the first time in history. Biology experiments detected strange signs of activity in the Martian soil - akin to microbes giving off gas.

Before announcing the news that life had been found on another planet, Nasa carried out more tests to look for evidence of organic matter.
However, the Viking experiments failed to find this essential stuff of life and it was concluded that Mars was a dead planet. Dr Levin, one of three scientists on the life detection experiments, has never given up on the idea that Viking did find living micro-organisms in the surface soil of Mars.
Beagle [ below ]is looking for life He continued to experiment and study all new evidence from Mars and Earth, and, in 1997, reached the conclusion and published that the so-called LR (labelled release) work had detected life. He says new evidence is emerging that could settle the debate, once and for all.
He told BBC News Online: "The organic analysis instrument was shown to be very insensitive, requiring millions of micro-organisms to detect any organic matter versus the LR's demonstrated ability to detect as few as 50 micro-organisms."

Dr Levin, now president and CEO of US biotechnology company Biospherix, has a new experiment that he says "could unambiguously settle the argument".

But it was rejected by both Nasa and the European Space Agency (Esa) to go on-board this summer's Mars missions.
The British-built Beagle 2, which will be deposited on the Martian surface by Esa's Mars Express space craft, is going with the main purpose to hunt for life. This is a risky strategy, claims Dr Levin.
"Strangely, despite its billing, Beagle 2 carries no life detection experiment!" he said. "Neither its GCMS (organic detector) which is claimed to be more sensitive than Viking's, nor its isotopic analysis instrument can provide evidence for living organisms." The surface of Mars as seen by Viking 11 Lander.

Nasa's mission to Mars is taking a more circumspect approach to the big life question. Its two identical rovers will roam the ancient plains of Mars acting as robot geologists. Mark Adler, deputy mission manager, said the main science objective was to understand the water environment of Mars not to search for life.
He told BBC News Online: "What we learnt from Viking is that it is very difficult to come up with specific experiments to look for something you don't really know what to look for."
Claims of life on Mars have always proved highly contentious. Twenty years after Viking, microbe-like structures discovered inside a Martian meteorite found in Antarctica led to more claims that were later rejected.
As the astronomer Carl Sagan once said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And there is no reason to believe that anything found this time will be any different.
"It's going to take a number of missions if we want to know whether there is life on Mars or not," said Dr Charles Cockell, a Mars biologist at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridgeshire, UK.
"If we find no evidence of life on Mars it may just mean we have looked in the wrong place."

An intriguing photo taken of the surface of Mars - but with a simple explanation - Wind blows through this north polar region of Mars from the lower right toward the upper left, crafting dusty dunes with steep slopes that point in the direction the wind blows. The dunes are illuminated by sunlight from the upper right. The image covers and area about 1.9 miles (3 kilometres) wide.

click on image for larger size

The following article was published in “News Scotsman” 8th March, 2004

Did Ufo Bring Down Beagle?


European scientists are examining an image of the Beagle 2 Mars lander, taken moments after it was spun off from its mother ship that also shows an unidentified object.

The mysterious blot on the photograph is being scrutinized as one of several potential reasons for the failure of the mission – Europe’s first attempt to land a probe on the Red Planet.

Mission controllers told a London meeting that they were also considering the possibility that Beagle 2 simply crashed onto the surface of Mars because the atmosphere on the planet was less dense than expected.

Scientists said they are examining photographs of the landing site that show four bright spots, dubbed the ”string of pearls,” that might be Beagle 2’s remains.

Beagle 2 has not been heard from since it was ejected from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter in mid-December. The 143 pound probe gave no answering signal to scheduled attempts to contact it on Christmas Day and has remained stubbornly silent ever since. 

Scientists are unable to identify the object (smaller) which accompanied Beagle during the descent.
Click on pic for large size

The following article was published on “Radio Free Europe”, 24th March 2004

World: Mars Mission Finds Evidence Of A Salty Sea Hospitable To Life
By Andrew Tully

U.S. space scientists have moved one step closer to determining whether Mars once harbored life. Earlier this month, one of two robotic vehicles roaming the planet found evidence that water had once eroded stone. Now they've announced that the evidence points to something even more important.
Washington, 24 March 2004 (RFE/RL) - American scientists say they have found the strongest evidence yet that Mars was once hospitable to life.
Speaking with reporters yesterday in Washington, officials from the U.S. space agency NASA were careful to say they had not found evidence of life itself. But, they say, "Opportunity" - one of two robotic vehicles that landed on the planet in January - has found evidence of a shallow, salty sea.
The conclusion was based on the same evidence that led to the announcement on 2 March that water had, indeed, once flowed on Mars. At that time, however, scientists were able to conclude only that it was present in the Meridiani Planum, the area being explored by one of the vehicles.
"We don't know that life was there, but we have an environment that would have been suitable for life." Ed Weiler, NASA's associate administrator for space science, said early analysis of the evidence indicates that some Martian rocks had undergone erosion that could only have been caused by water. He said further study determined something even more important.
"It appears that the rocks at Meridiani were not just altered or modified by water, they were actually formed in water, perhaps a shallow, salty sea," he said. "This is a profound discovery. It has profound implications for astrobiology [the study of extraterrestrial life]. And I'd like to say, if you have an interest in searching for fossils on Mars, this is the first place you want to go."
Steve Squyres, the main scientist for the Mars mission, said the fact that the rock was formed in water, rather than merely eroded by water, indicates the onetime presence of enough water to constitute a sea.
"We have found what I believe to be strong evidence that the rocks themselves are sediments that were laid down in liquid water. It's a fundamental distinction. It's like the difference between water you can draw from a well and water you can swim in."
In other words, Squyres says, a mere trickle of water would not be enough to sustain life like that known on Earth. But he said the Martian sea in the Meridiani Planum was plentiful and salty.
"These are the kinds of environments that are very suitable for life. Now, we don't know that life was there, but we have an environment that would have been suitable for life. The second reason it's important is the potential for preservation of evidence."
Squyres said the minerals in the water may have trapped whatever was submerged in it, perhaps leaving fossils for eventual discovery.
There is still a lot that scientists do not know about Mars and its water, Squyres says - for example, the size of the newly discovered sea, and how common such seas may have been on the planet.
They also do not know the size of the former body of water found by the Mars rover, whether it was once a permanent sea, or whether it flooded from time to time like a desert basin. There is also no evidence yet as to when this water existed, or how long the area was wet.
But Squyres said that uncovering the evidence of the salty sea on Meridiani Planum proves that NASA has the means to find answers to at least some of these questions.
U.S. space agency plans to mount unmanned missions to the planet every 26 months. One such mission, scheduled for 2013, would return to Earth with rock samples for more thorough analysis.

U.S. President George W. Bush also has proposed sending humans to Mars, although he has not given a detailed schedule for that effort.

The following article was published by “BBC News”, 29th March 2004

Methane on Mars could signal life


By Dr David Whitehouse

BBC News Online science editor 


Is there life beneath the soil? 

Methane has been found in the Martian atmosphere which scientists say could be a sign that life exists today on Mars. It was detected by telescopes on Earth and has recently been confirmed by instruments onboard the European Space Agency's orbiting Mars Express craft.

Methane lives for a short time in the Martian atmosphere so it must be being constantly replenished.

There are two possible sources: either active volcanoes, none of which have been found yet on Mars, or microbes.


Spectral signature

The spectral signature of the gas was seen by the Infrared Telescope on Hawaii and the Gemini South Observatory in Chile.   Scientists see two possibilities, both of them scientifically important, but one of them is sensational

 Scientists operating the Mars Express Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (FPS) have announced they have detected the presence of methane in the Red Planet's atmosphere, too.

The world's largest telescope, the twin Keck facility on Hawaii, has looked but has yet to report its findings.

But further evidence of methane on Mars will be presented at a meeting next month by a consortium of astronomers using the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope.


Volcanic explanation

Methane is not a stable molecule in the Martian atmosphere. If it was not replenished in some way, it would only last a few hundred years before it vanished. Scientists see two possibilities, both of them scientifically important, but one of them is sensational.

Nasa's Infrared Telescope detected methane last year  It is possible that the methane is being produced by volcanic activity. Lava deposited on to the surface, or released underground, could produce the gas.

This explanation has some difficulties, however. So far, no active volcanic hotspots have been detected on the planet by the many spacecraft currently in orbit.

If active volcanism were responsible then it would be a major discovery with important implications. The heat released by any volcanism would melt the vast quantities of sub-surface ice discovered on the planet, producing an environment suitable for life.


Life on Mars?


On Earth, there are organisms called methanogens - microbes that produce methane from hydrogen and carbon dioxide. These organisms do not need oxygen to thrive, and they are thought to be the type of microbes that could possibly live on Mars.

The twin US space agency rovers that landed on the Red Planet in January will be unable to answer the question of the methane's origin as they are designed for geological work.

But future missions could include sensors to analyse the methane to determine where it came from.

The failed Beagle 2 mission had a device that could have sniffed the Martian atmosphere for methane.


Mars - Strong Indication of Alien Life


DENVER, COLORADO - Senior Space Writer Leonard David reports:

Those twin robots hard at work on Mars have transmitted teasing views that reinforce the prospect that microbial life may exist on the red planet.  Results from NASA's Spirit and Opportunity Rovers are being looked over by a legion of planetary experts, including a scientist who remains steadfast that his experiment in 1976 proved the presence of active microbial life in the topsoil of Mars.

All factors necessary to constitute a habitat for life as we know it exist on current-day Mars," explained Gilbert Levin, executive officer for science at Spherix Incorporated of Beltsville, Maryland. Levin made his remarks at the International Symposium on Optical Science and Technology, the 49th annual meeting of Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE).

Levin has a long-standing interest in time-weathered Mars and the promise of life today on that distant and dusty world. NASA's 1976 Viking mission to Mars was geared-up to look for possible Martian life. And it was Levin's Labeled Release experiment that made a provocative find:

       “The presence of a highly reactive agent in the surface material of Mars. Levin concluded in 1997 that this activity was triggered by living microorganisms lurking in the Martian soil - a judgment he admits has not been generally accepted by the scientific community.  Now roll forward to 2004. Consider the findings of Spirit and Opportunity, the golf-cart sized robots wheeling over Mars at Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum.

      Those rovers have been absolutely sensational, pouring out thousands of images. Those images have lots of information in them. And I've tried to deduce something in there relative to life... and I think I found a lot."