NASA May Have Destroyed Organic Molecules in Old Mars Mission

40-year-old probe's soil samples potentially gone

Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Over 40 years ago, a NASA mission may have accidentally destroyed what would have been the first discovery of organic molecules on Mars, according to a report from New Scientist.

Recently, NASA caused quite a commotion when it announced that its Curiosity rover discovered organic molecules — which make up life as we know it — on Mars. This followed the first confirmation of organic molecules on Mars in 2014. But because small, carbon-rich meteorites so frequently pelt the Red Planet, scientists have suspected for decades that organics exist on Mars. But researchers were stunned in 1976, when NASA sent two Viking landers to Mars to search for organics for the first time and found absolutely none.

Scientists didn’t know what to make of the Viking findings — how could there be no organics on Mars? “It was just completely unexpected and inconsistent with what we knew,” Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, told New Scientist.

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