Evidence of a Mars cover-up
by Jamie Stensrud

In 1976, we found evidence of extraterrestrial life. Coming not in such dramatic fashion as fleets of alien spacecraft landing in front of the UN, or an information-packed burst of radio transmission, this evidence came in the understated form of a biological waste product.

Experiment Yields Positive Results
Dr Gilbert Levin
The Labeled Release Experiment (LRE), conceived of by Dr Gilbert Levin (now of Spherix Inc) and included in the 1976 Viking Lander mission, was an experiment designed to test for evidence of microbial life on the surface of Mars. Its premise was that a soil sample would be subjected to a "bath" of radioactive nutrients laced with carbon; any organisms present would eat the nutrients and produce radioactive carbon dioxide as a natural byproduct. Although the experiment met with success, recording a level of byproduct that would be considered conclusive on Earth, two other experiments on board yielded contradictory results - one supporting the conclusion of the LRE, the other not. A fourth experiment, designed to detect organic molecules in the soil, yielded negative results, and thus it became accepted opinion that the positive LRE readings were chemical rather than biological in origin, even though a "second stage" LRE experiment (in which the soil samples were baked to eradicate any organisms, then tested again, producing no byproducts as expected) produced results confirming the findings of the first.

View a slideshow demonstrating the Labeled Release Experiment

Although the Labeled Release Experiment relied on accepted and proven methods of determining the presence of biological organisms, official position at the time stated that the positive results were misleading, and were the result of either superoxides or an unknown chemical on the surface of the planet. At the time, not much evidence existed to refute that statement, but in the years since, other evidence has come to light supporting the claim that there is more going on at Mars (and NASA/JPL) than we may know.

Painting a Deceiving Picture
There is more than circumstantial evidence that the concept of a "red Mars" is more of a conditioned idea than one based in fact. For example, consider the two images below, both released by JPL as original images; which one is the correct image? The answer is - they both are. The one at left was taken sometime on day 30 of the Pathfinder mission, which was to have been the final day of the mission, before it was extended. The image at right was taken at the end of day 30, as noted in the caption in the original image. Note the identical shadows cast by the probe and nearby rocks; either both images were taken within moments of each other, or they are in fact the same image, one of them color-adjusted. Did the image at left "slip through the cracks"?

Source: JPL/NASA Source: JPL/NASA

What could cause two otherwise identical images to vary so much in color? Dust particles present in the lower atmosphere would scatter sunlight, adjusting it to a reddish hue similar to Earth's sunsets. It is hard, however, to imagine an effect which would cause such a sudden rise in atmospheric dust while at the same time not affecting the position of nearby rocks, pebbles, and sand, as well as not affecting the performance of the camera itself. This also does not explain the appearance of the left image in the first place, which depicts a brighter, more Earth-like tone. An explanation can be found in a statement by Ron Levin, son of Dr Gilbert Levin and a physicist at MIT. Levin claims that the original images received from Viking depicted "a blue sky and rocks with greenish patches on them", and NASA officials artifically adjusted the color on subsequent images to wash out certain features. The full account can be read here, from which I quote:

Viking image 12b166,
6 Oct 1976, 07:48
(unfiltered original)

Ron said that he was a 20-year old grad student and was at JPL when the first color images came in from the lander. He said those original images showed a blue sky and rocks with greenish patches on them, and that the Viking imaging team quickly adjusted the images so that the sky and the rocks all had the reddish color we're familiar with. Levin made it clear that there was no scientific justification for these "adjustments", and he speculated that the color was changed because the planetary scientists took a dim view of the greenish patches on the rocks, which suggested some primitive form of plant life might be growing right on the surface.

There is also evidence that the natural color of the Martian sky is in fact blue rather then reddish. From a Space Telescope Science Institute press release dated 1 July 1997, and viewable here:

"If dust diffuses to the landing site, the sky could turn out to be pink like that seen by Viking," says Philip James of the University of Toledo. "Otherwise, Pathfinder will likely show blue sky with bright clouds."

The Next-Generation Experiment
Not giving up on the results of the original Viking Labeled Release Experiment, Dr Levin has lobbied for an updated experiment to be included in the upcoming 2007 Mars missions, after having been rejected for the 2003 twin-rover probes. This new experiment uses two different chambers with two types of nutrients intended to prove conclusively if the reactions are chemical or biological in nature. "Chemicals won't be able to tell the difference," Dr Levin points out. "Organisms will."

Dr Levin has no doubt that his original results will be proven correct. As he accurately states, "They thought Galileo was wrong the first time, too."

 

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