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NASA may have burned best proof of life on Mars by accident over 40 years ago

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After NASA scientists announced they found the “building blocks” for life on Mars in June, some researchers suggest the organic molecules might have actually been found over 40 years ago — and NASA spacecrafts accidentally burned them.

Viking landers sent to Mars in 1976 to search for organic matter reported finding nothing, a conclusion that shocked scientists at the time. New research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Planets, suggests the Vikings’ main instrument might have actually discovered the organic matter but burned it while collecting soil samples, an article in New Scientist notes.

The primary instrument on the Viking landers, a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer, used heat to try and find these molecules. That was big a mistake. Because of a now-known chemical in the soil perchlorate, the landers would have destroyed any organics in the process. NASA’s Phoenix lander found perchlorate on Mars in 2008, Space.com notes.

“You get some new insight, and you realize that everything you thought was wrong,” Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center involved in the research, told New Scientist.

More: Could humans live on Mars? ‘Absolutely,’ a NASA expert says

More: Scientists discover hundreds of ‘ghost dunes’ on Mars

Follow Ashley May on Twitter: @AshleyMayTweets

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