Around forty years ago, the two Viking landers probably discovered the first organic molecules on the surface of Mars, or in other words, the first signs of life on Mars. However, the American space agency destroyed them by mistake. So how did this happen?
Not long ago, NASA claimed to have discovered surprising organic molecules via the Curiosity rover, in the sedimentary rock on Mars. However, it could be the case that this was no grand premier. The Viking landers 1 and 2 landed on Mars on the 20th of July and the 3rd of September 1976 respectively. It appears that they have been the centre of debate for several decades, discussing whether or not the landers had identified evidence of life on Mars. This could have been the case, according to certain researchers, and it is almost sure that the two Viking landers were the first to detect complex organic molecules on the surface of the Red Planet.
Melissa Guzman and her team from LATMOS claim, in a study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research on the 20th June 2018, that the Viking landers had identified organic matter on Mars forty years ago. Except that NASA researchers have suddenly clammed up on the topic, because this matter was accidentally destroyed during experiments.
The scientists were still surprised to not have found traces of carbon where it logically should have been. In fact, there is frequently a multitude of micrometeorites that land on the surface of Mars, which are very rich in carbon compounds. The fact is that these micrometeorites are extremely flammable, and the experience of carrying a handful of Martian soil at a temperature of 500°C into a gas chromatograph was sure to have put burned the sample to a crisp, and with it, any potential traces of organic matter.
In any case, this is the theory presented by Melissa Guzman and her team, who within the framework of their research, tried to find evidence of chlorobenzine in the Viking lander archives. Chlorobenzine is a molecule that is created as a result of burning perchlorates with carbon. Finally, evidence of this molecule was found in parts related to Viking 2, but unfortunately, there is no proof to confirm whether it was organic Martian material, or matter that came from our own planet.
Sources: New Scientist