In the time since the Viking life-detection experiments were conducted on Mars, many missions have enhanced our knowledge about the environmental conditions on the Red Planet. However, the martian surface chemistry and the Viking lander results remain puzzling. Nonbiological explanations that favor a strong inorganic oxidant are currently favored (e.g., Mancinelli, 1989; Plumb et al., 1989; Quinn and Zent, 1999; Klein, 1999; Yen et al., 2000), but problems remain regarding the lifetime, source, and abundance of that oxidant to account for the Viking observations (Zent and McKay, 1994). Alternatively, a hypothesis that favors the biological origin of a strong oxidizer has recently been advanced (Houtkooper and Schulze-Makuch, 2007). Here, we report on laboratory experiments that simulate the experiments to be conducted by the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) instrument of the Phoenix lander, which is to descend on Mars in May 2008. Our experiments provide a baseline for an unbiased test for chemical versus biological responses, which can be applied at the time the Phoenix lander transmits its first results from the martian surface. Astrobiology 8, 205-214.
Astrobiology April 1, 2008, 8(2): 205-214.