Author Topic: The Labeled Release experiment on the Viking mission  (Read 24301 times)

Offline Star One

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Yep George Levin has stirred this up again with a new opinion piece in Scientific American.

Quote
On July 30, 1976, the LR returned its initial results from Mars. Amazingly, they were positive. As the experiment progressed, a total of four positive results, supported by five varied controls, streamed down from the twin Viking spacecraft landed some 4,000 miles apart. The data curves signaled the detection of microbial respiration on the Red Planet. The curves from Mars were similar to those produced by LR tests of soils on Earth. It seemed we had answered that ultimate question.
When the Viking Molecular Analysis Experiment failed to detect organic matter, the essence of life, however, NASA concluded that the LR had found a substance mimicking life, but not life. Inexplicably, over the 43 years since Viking, none of NASA’s subsequent Mars landers has carried a life detection instrument to follow up on these exciting results. Instead the agency launched a series of missions to Mars to determine whether there was ever a habitat suitable for life and, if so, eventually to bring samples to Earth for biological examination.

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/im-convinced-we-found-evidence-of-life-on-mars-in-the-1970s/

Here’s a support article.

https://www.airspacemag.com/daily-planet/debate-over-whether-weve-already-found-life-mars-continued-180973395/

Offline strkiky

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Re: The Labeled Release experiment on the Viking mission
« Reply #1 on: 10/25/2019 09:36 pm »
It's not just George, there's a range of us that wants a reconsideration to the labelled release experiment.

The current response to The Labeled Release is either in denial or "The world isn't ready to accept that there's life on other planets."

That being said, the labelled release experiment does not confirm that there's life on Mars, but it does tell us that introducing urey-miller molecules (as nutrients) to Martian soil results in the release of Carbon dioxide.

But there is a problem when we are no longer considering that there's a possibility to life.

Ever since then, the missions to Mars have being dominated by geological experiments to find "evidence of past life."
Without even thinking that the "evidence of past life" could be indicative of present life.
The instruments we send up there often cannot tell at which point life is possible.

Instruments that could give better indication of life on Mars have being suggested, but they are often pulled out.
(look up Urey: Mars Organic and Oxidant Detector).

We could make far more progress in this area if we actually considered instruments that look for evidence of extant life instead of evidence of past life. This means that we should consider biological or biological-related experiments instead of geological experiments.

Offline Star One

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Re: The Labeled Release experiment on the Viking mission
« Reply #2 on: 10/25/2019 09:39 pm »
The ExoMars rover does include experiments to look for life does it not

Offline whitelancer64

It's not just George, there's a range of us that wants a reconsideration to the labelled release experiment.

The current response to The Labeled Release is either in denial or "The world isn't ready to accept that there's life on other planets."

That being said, the labelled release experiment does not confirm that there's life on Mars, but it does tell us that introducing urey-miller molecules (as nutrients) to Martian soil results in the release of Carbon dioxide.

But there is a problem when we are no longer considering that there's a possibility to life.

Ever since then, the missions to Mars have being dominated by geological experiments to find "evidence of past life."
Without even thinking that the "evidence of past life" could be indicative of present life.
The instruments we send up there often cannot tell at which point life is possible.

Instruments that could give better indication of life on Mars have being suggested, but they are often pulled out.
(look up Urey: Mars Organic and Oxidant Detector).

We could make far more progress in this area if we actually considered instruments that look for evidence of extant life instead of evidence of past life. This means that we should consider biological or biological-related experiments instead of geological experiments.

The big risk with those types of instruments is that if you bill the mission as "looking for life on Mars" and you don't find it - like the Viking missions did - you get all your funding cut and you don't go to Mars again for the next couple of decades. NASA got burned once doing that and is reticent to do so again.

That said, there ARE a couple of really great "life detection" instruments now, that would look for very specific signatures that would let us know if there is "life as we know it" on Mars. I personally think it would be worthwhile to fly them, the real issue is that NASA doesn't want to deal with the fallout of negative results.
"One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to." - Elon Musk
"There are lies, damned lies, and launch schedules." - Larry J

Offline whitelancer64

The ExoMars rover does include experiments to look for life does it not

It does not.

It has a couple of instruments - the Raman Laser Spectrometer and the Organic Molecule Analyzer - that are very sensitive to organic (carbon-bearing) molecules. Both could in theory detect biosignatures, but that is not their primary purpose.
"One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to." - Elon Musk
"There are lies, damned lies, and launch schedules." - Larry J

Offline Phil Stooke

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Re: The Labeled Release experiment on the Viking mission
« Reply #5 on: 10/25/2019 10:04 pm »
"The current response to The Labeled Release is either in denial or "The world isn't ready to accept that there's life on other planets.""

Or... that soil chemistry is capable of producing the observed result. 

Until it is clear that soil chemistry alone, without biology, cannot produce the observed result, the assumption that life has been detected is unwarranted.  Let's not overlook the little problem of conflict of interest in Levin's position.  This is not the same as denial.

Offline faramund

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Re: The Labeled Release experiment on the Viking mission
« Reply #6 on: 10/25/2019 10:27 pm »
"The current response to The Labeled Release is either in denial or "The world isn't ready to accept that there's life on other planets.""

Or... that soil chemistry is capable of producing the observed result. 

Until it is clear that soil chemistry alone, without biology, cannot produce the observed result, the assumption that life has been detected is unwarranted.  Let's not overlook the little problem of conflict of interest in Levin's position.  This is not the same as denial.

Although I think the path that science often takes when there are two conflicting theories that can both be used to explain some behaviour, is to develop some sort of test, that dependent on its result, will give more backing to one of the theories over the other.

It seems a failing of the various processes that decide what experimental equipment goes to Mars, that this hasn't been done.

Offline matthewkantar

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Re: The Labeled Release experiment on the Viking mission
« Reply #7 on: 10/26/2019 12:50 am »
"The current response to The Labeled Release is either in denial or "The world isn't ready to accept that there's life on other planets.""

Or... that soil chemistry is capable of producing the observed result. 

Until it is clear that soil chemistry alone, without biology, cannot produce the observed result, the assumption that life has been detected is unwarranted.  Let's not overlook the little problem of conflict of interest in Levin's position.  This is not the same as denial.

As far as I know, nobody has come up with a non-biological explanation of the results, or duplicated the results in the absence of life. Occam's razor here suggests biology is a stronger answer than chemistry.

I have come to believe recently that finding hard evidence of life on some other world won't be as big a deal to the public as is generally thought. Headlines would be headlines for a couple of days and then people would go back to watching the boob tube.

Offline Star One

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Re: The Labeled Release experiment on the Viking mission
« Reply #8 on: 10/26/2019 06:56 am »
The ExoMars rover does include experiments to look for life does it not

It does not.

It has a couple of instruments - the Raman Laser Spectrometer and the Organic Molecule Analyzer - that are very sensitive to organic (carbon-bearing) molecules. Both could in theory detect biosignatures, but that is not their primary purpose.

Thanks for the clarification. That will teach me to take mainstream articles on it at face value.

Offline Star One

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Re: The Labeled Release experiment on the Viking mission
« Reply #9 on: 10/26/2019 06:59 am »
"The current response to The Labeled Release is either in denial or "The world isn't ready to accept that there's life on other planets.""

Or... that soil chemistry is capable of producing the observed result. 

Until it is clear that soil chemistry alone, without biology, cannot produce the observed result, the assumption that life has been detected is unwarranted.  Let's not overlook the little problem of conflict of interest in Levin's position.  This is not the same as denial.

As far as I know, nobody has come up with a non-biological explanation of the results, or duplicated the results in the absence of life. Occam's razor here suggests biology is a stronger answer than chemistry.

I have come to believe recently that finding hard evidence of life on some other world won't be as big a deal to the public as is generally thought. Headlines would be headlines for a couple of days and then people would go back to watching the boob tube.

I get the feeling that his article was as much about pointing out that recent NASA Martian missions haven’t included more specific life detecting experiments than anything else.

Offline strkiky

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Re: The Labeled Release experiment on the Viking mission
« Reply #10 on: 10/26/2019 12:11 pm »
Quote
Ghost-like moving lights, resembling will-O’-the-wisps on Earth that are formed by spontaneous ignition of methane, have been video-recorded on the Martian surface

Just read this from George's article.
Anyone know which paper or video this is from? (if it exists)

Offline Nomadd

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Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who couldn't hear the music.

Offline libra

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Re: The Labeled Release experiment on the Viking mission
« Reply #12 on: 10/26/2019 06:02 pm »
Ah, Levin... last of the Mohicans, really. All the others - Vishniac, Oyama, Horowitz, and Biemann - are long gone.

Back in 1974 the National Academies had had a prescient warning

"Well, whatif the life seeking instruments give some split results - Oyama, Levin, Horowitz - and then Biemann GCMS fails to find organic molecules in the first place ? how can we justify positive life signs without organic molecules in the first place ?"

And... it happened. The three life seeking experiments gave two resounding NO - Horowitz and Oyama. And then Levin found himself very alone when his own gave a YES signal.
So they called Biemann, somewhat, to the rescue
"Well... how about those organic molecules ?"
"Well, zippo. Nada. Found nothing"

and now they had TWO controversies... "I found life ! " No, you didn't, we didn't ! and by the way, there was organic matter in the first place !"

(facepalm)

Twenty years of paralysis later, in 1997... and then ten more years, 2008... Phoenix land near the north pole... with a new kind of GCMS...

"Hey look, that soil is full of perchlorates !"

"Perchlorates ? hell, those things destroys organics when heated. Pyrolisis, you know, the way Biemann GCMS searched for them..."

"Oh god damn it, can you believe what this mean ??!!! Biemann GCMS exactly destroyed what is was supposed to search, and, how surprising, it did not found it..."
...
"...and then Horowitz used Biemann negative results to rebuke Levin claims, so the two separated controversies tangled together, with catastrophic results..."

"Murphy law, how I hate you."

Offline strkiky

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Re: The Labeled Release experiment on the Viking mission
« Reply #13 on: 10/26/2019 09:35 pm »
Ah, Levin... last of the Mohicans, really. All the others - Vishniac, Oyama, Horowitz, and Biemann - are long gone.

Back in 1974 the National Academies had had a prescient warning

"Well, whatif the life seeking instruments give some split results - Oyama, Levin, Horowitz - and then Biemann GCMS fails to find organic molecules in the first place ? how can we justify positive life signs without organic molecules in the first place ?"

And... it happened. The three life seeking experiments gave two resounding NO - Horowitz and Oyama. And then Levin found himself very alone when his own gave a YES signal.
So they called Biemann, somewhat, to the rescue
"Well... how about those organic molecules ?"
"Well, zippo. Nada. Found nothing"

and now they had TWO controversies... "I found life ! " No, you didn't, we didn't ! and by the way, there was organic matter in the first place !"

(facepalm)

Twenty years of paralysis later, in 1997... and then ten more years, 2008... Phoenix land near the north pole... with a new kind of GCMS...

"Hey look, that soil is full of perchlorates !"

"Perchlorates ? hell, those things destroys organics when heated. Pyrolisis, you know, the way Biemann GCMS searched for them..."

"Oh god damn it, can you believe what this mean ??!!! Biemann GCMS exactly destroyed what is was supposed to search, and, how surprising, it did not found it..."
...
"...and then Horowitz used Biemann negative results to rebuke Levin claims, so the two separated controversies tangled together, with catastrophic results..."

"Murphy law, how I hate you."

This paper refutes most if not all your claims. All those are legitimate issues, but those issues do not withstand the test of time.
http://www.gillevin.com/Mars/Levin-Straat_Mars_Society_Paper_8-8-14.pdf

But I should note that the point is that a few instruments dedicated to actually looking for extant life should be in the payloads.
The concern is that we have never done so since the Vikings is why we're still stuck on this chapter.

Here's a paper that's not by Levin that looks beyond the vikings experiment (spirit, curiosity...etc).
http://journalofastrobiology.com/Mars5.html
- But the issue remains, we've never tried to prove ourself wrong or correct on Mars by providing the specific instruments, so even the evidences presented by Joseph et al., (2019) cannot be experimentally confirmed.
« Last Edit: 10/26/2019 09:39 pm by strkiky »

Offline libra

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Re: The Labeled Release experiment on the Viking mission
« Reply #14 on: 10/27/2019 06:56 am »
It is no *my claims* but rather the broad consensus and general explanation given since 1977 - 42 years of studies. And controversies, admittedly. I did not claimed it was or is the absolute, final answer about Viking results, just the general consensus I come to understand from my readings.
Partly based on that dated but still interesting NASA history
https://history.nasa.gov/SP-4212.pdf

Levine had a peculiar background among the Oyama / Horowitz / Vishniac / Biemann Viking biology team. Basically he was kind of underdog, having single handedly joined the Viking science team from a basic job of... assessing microbial flora levels in Los angeles sewers. No kidding.
The others scientists had more "straightforward" careers through Universities ranks.

Levine, Oyama and Horowitz reactions to Viking puzzling and irritating results is equally interesting. Levine stood against all odds. Horowitz was negative, furious, he somewhat tookover Oyama and Biemann to dismiss Levine results - and they clashed many times. And poor Oyama - he had been the most naive and enthusiast of the lot, and really took a major hit in his morale.

"The current response to The Labeled Release is either in denial or "The world isn't ready to accept that there's life on other planets.""

Or... that soil chemistry is capable of producing the observed result. 

Until it is clear that soil chemistry alone, without biology, cannot produce the observed result, the assumption that life has been detected is unwarranted.  Let's not overlook the little problem of conflict of interest in Levin's position.  This is not the same as denial.

Quote
As far as I know, nobody has come up with a non-biological explanation of the results, or duplicated the results in the absence of life. Occam's razor here suggests biology is a stronger answer than chemistry.

And there the Murphy law strike again... Biemann explanation of the perchlorate - organics reaction (he could not guess in 1977-78, 30 years before Phoenix) was something akin to "perchlorate maybe, but not from Mars: rather from the solvants Martin Marietta & NASA used to sterilize the ovens for pyrolisis"
This did not helped, really, but Biemann could NOT in his right mind found any other explanation for NOT finding organics AND the bizarre results from the ovens when pyrolisis happened.

Some suggested (before Phoenix) that Biemann instrument had not been sensitive enough to detect organics. for the record, Biemann lived until 2016 and he was not exactly happy younger people dared to critic his instrument like this.
He stuck on his 1978 explanation "pyrolisis and perchlorate and organics explain my CGMS results - but where does the perchlorate come ? NASA and Martin Marietta solvants & sterilization stuff"

Phoenix answer 30 years later left everybody in a kind of shock. Biemann had been intuitively right about perchlorates - except for their origin. Mars had done it, not Martin Marietta.  :o  >:(  ::)

And on top of the Biemann vs Horowitz & Oyama vs Levine, tangled controversies - was all the HYPE drummed by Carl Sagan before the mission, since 1960 and voyager beginnings, to get it funded and off the pad. WE GONNA FIND LIFE OF MARS he claimed, for 15 years. NASA drank too much of that hype, they needed Sagan onboard.

And then reality came back in their faces like some kind of giant boomerang. Ouch, it hurts.

Basically, if Viking was to be redone today, it would Biemann, GCMS, and organics first and in force.

And only then, a second mission to cautiously search for life, starting from the organics.

Sorry to say that but both Apollo and Viking, while splendid *PR / engineering / science* successes beyond any doubt, came waaay to early and for the wrong reasons (JFK deadline vs Sagan hype) and in both cases, the frustrating results related to the huge expense ($3 billion for Viking, $25 billion for Apollo) screwed any successor until 1997 (Sojourner) and 1998 (Lunar Prospector).

Makes one think...
« Last Edit: 10/27/2019 07:13 am by libra »

Offline Star One

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Re: The Labeled Release experiment on the Viking mission
« Reply #15 on: 10/27/2019 08:55 am »
Doesn’t excuse the curious lack of experiments to repeat what Viking was testing for?

Offline libra

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Re: The Labeled Release experiment on the Viking mission
« Reply #16 on: 10/27/2019 04:02 pm »
Yes it excuses it. 
Because a) the hype was way too strong b) the expense was too large and c) all we got in return was a bitting controversy between four scientists for the next four decades before Phoenix lifted a corner of the enigma. 

Also consider that: Viking was the first ever american lander on Mars, and it went into a Mars life (and somewhat, wild goose !) chase straight ahead !

That chase was based (inevitably but also naively) on Earth standard, carbonaceous life - and nothing else. Sagan hoped to find lichens on Mars rocks, and was telling everybody and his dog that the camera was a life-seeking experiment as much as the bio lab. Something will move on the surface !

And then around the time Viking was funded, build, and launched  exoscientists  found a brand new, completely different category of bugs - extremophiles.

On Earth, not on Mars. D'oh !

- first in Antarctica (1973-75, by Wolf Vishniac, actually one of the Viking life scientists that paid his life for his discovery, falling out of cliff while chasing his experiments - by a rather horrible irony, the samples he had recovered that were in turn recovered from his body and backpack nearby - turned the first extremophiles ever found, Antarctica included !)

- and later (1977) in the Pacific depths, near the black smokers (Alvin submarine).
Extremophile discovery was a landmark and proved that not all life on Earth was standard carbon-based thrieving on sun and nutriments. Imagine on others planets, such as Mars !

So yes, the reason why Viking has not been fully repeated, is that it went the wrong way, too early, too naive, at an horrendous cost, and on top of that, produced a very bitting controversy that irritated a lot of people.

Twenty years of paralysis followed, because Congress needed to be allowed to forgot that fiasco, happened just after Apollo, that other big space expense - enough of these space stunts ! Mondale & Proxmire - the usual suspects.

Since then the search for life on Mars has taken a different path - follow the water or find fossile traces. This is much less exciting than Viking "hype" and takes much, much more time but has worked pretty well since 1997.

Viking is really apart in the history of the search of life on Mars. After that big failure, frustration and early dead-end, and a veeeeeryyyy long pause to digest the fiasco, the real hunt started from a clean sheet of paper  in 1997 and has not stopped since then.

Levine should have moved on long ago: he has kind of beating a dead horse for too long. It is understandable he defends his results but if he defends them the wrong way, he doesn't help his cause.
 For example, it is probably hard to staunchly defend data from 1976 when so much probes, instruments and discoveries have been made since them.
There is a very real risk of cutting oneself from more recent discoveries if they run counter from his own results. Or to embrace the ones that favor his results and point of view.

The risk is to become isolated from the mainstream, with only a cottery of followers thinking the same around him.
Marginalization, this is called. Not good for a scientist.
Once again, Levine has an excuse: the post-Viking controversy was extremely harsh and bitting for him, putting him on the defensive for decades. Horowitz in particular was not exactly easy to deal with.

Offline libra

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Re: The Labeled Release experiment on the Viking mission
« Reply #17 on: 10/28/2019 04:40 pm »
I find something in the depth of my HD.

Taken from here

Opportunities and Choices in Space Science, 1974

This is the warning of the National Academies about Viking life search possible results, written in 1974.

Look at the second (or third) document attached, it is worth its weight in gold: The National Academies had somewhat guessed what could happen if

a) 1 out 3 life seeking experiments gave a "YES" and two others, a "NO" (Levine vs Oyama & Horowitz, here we go !)

and what's quite worse...

b) whatif Biemann GCMS gives a NO ? That is, how could we claim "we found life ! we found life !" if organics can't be found in the first place ?

1974... well, this is exactly what happened to Viking !

Unbelievable, and kudos to the National Academies for such a prescient warning.

Offline Star One

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The Labeled Release experiment on the Viking mission
« Reply #18 on: 11/23/2019 07:45 am »
Why We May Have Already Found Life On Mars with Dr Patricia Ann Straat:

« Last Edit: 11/23/2019 07:46 am by Star One »

Offline Star One

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Re: The Labeled Release experiment on the Viking mission
« Reply #19 on: 12/30/2019 07:31 pm »

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