Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:
If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
Cortaro, AZ 85652
Link here. One of the scientists involved in the Viking project has written a memoir of her experience, and the article interviews her.
Patricia Straat served as co-experimenter on one of the most controversial experiments ever sent to Mars: the Labeled Release instrument on the Viking Mars landers. The experiment’s principal investigator, Gilbert Levin, insists to this day that the project found extraterrestrial life. Most scientists doubt this interpretation, but the issue has never been fully settled.
Read it. It illustrates how uncertain science can be, even when an experiment produces a result that everyone involved dreamt of. As Straat notes,
The results met the pre-mission definition of a positive life response. But of course as soon as we got it everyone came up with alternative proposals to account for the results nonbiologically.
The problem was that though their experiment found evidence of life, none of the other Viking experiments did. Most significant was the apparently complete lack of organic material (based on carbon) in the soil.
To this day, no one has a good explanation for these results on Viking. The results remain a mystery, one that really will only be solved when we can return to Mars in force, and find out what it is really like.