Friday, 24 August 2007

Martian soil may contain life

Martian soil analyzed 30 years ago by NASA's Viking landers might contain life, according to a controversial new study that one scientist called "bogus."

The dry, freezing Martian surface could be home to microbes whose cells are filled with a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water, said Joop Houtkooper of the University of Giessen, Germany. But other scientists are skeptical of his results, which is the latest in a long series of contentious claims about what the Viking landers might or could have found.

Houtkooper reanalyzed data from the Gas Exchange (GEx) experiment carried out by the robotic landers in the 1970s and speculates the martian soil contained detactable amounts of life.

"It comes out to a little more than one part per thousand by weight, comparable to what is found in some permafrost in Antarctica," Houtkooper said.

Norman Pace, a microbiologist at the University of Colorado, is skeptical of the new claims. "It sounds bogus to me," Pace told "I don't consider the chemical results to be particularly credible in light of the hash conditions that Mars offers."

The findings were presented by Houtkooper at the European Planetary Science Congress in Potsdam, Germany this week and are detailed in a recent issue of the International Journal of Astrobiology.


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