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Dr. Gilbert (Gil) Levin, Monday, 10-7-13 October 8, 2013

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Dr. Gilbert (Gil) Levin, Monday, 10-7-13


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Guest:  Dr. Gil Levin.  Topics:  Life on Mars, Viking 1 and 2, Labeled Release Experiments, NASA & more.  Please direct all comments and questions regarding Space Show programs/guest(s) to the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com.  Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm.

We welcomed back Dr. Gil Levin to continue our discussion about Viking 1 and 2, the possibility of finding life on Mars, and the Viking Labeled Release Experiment.  In the first segment of our 1 hour 21 minute discussion, Dr. Levin explained why the name “Labeled Release Experiment” was used rather than his first choice, Gulliver.  Dr. Levin talked about liquid water on Mars with the findings that there is probably 2% liquid water in the surface area.  He compared that to the amounts of water found in in dry soils on Earth which supports microbial life.  He also talked about complex organics which he says has not yet been confirmed though he questions why certain Curiosity experiments which he believes have been done have yet to release their findings.  Rick was our first caller with questions about water, NASA policy, and green spots found on rock and what that might mean.  Gil also spoke about his presentation at the SPIE Conference recently held in San Diego and the panel he was part of with a NASA representative.

In the second segment, Gil took a question about the meaning of perchlorates on Mars, he addressed additional questions on liquid water and discussed the recent press releases from NASA and others that there was no methane on Mars and what this might mean for looking for life on the Red Planet.  Regarding methane, our guest had much to say and that the findings were not conclusive for all of Mars nor does there have to be methane for organics.  I asked him about the timelines involved in Viking 1 and 2 and you might be surprised to learn it was a 20 year process.  A listener asked about the odds of finding intelligent life on Mars and our guest said pretty slim.  He was also asked about searching for life elsewhere in the solar system and he said Mars was the best choice and listed the reasons why, including the economics of space exploration.  A listener asked if Curiosity & other missions were shut down due to the government budget crisis. Doug emailed us that Curiosity was still up and running.  Later, Doug called at the end of the show to inquire about possible organic detection using the Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) from Spirit and Opportunity. We concluded with Dr. Levin suggesting we contact NASA to release information about the green spots on Mars and liquid organic analysis of the surface. Also during this segment and not related to Mars, a listener asked Gil a few questions about his WW2 experience in the Merchant Marine in the N. Atlantic and the Pacific.  It was an interesting digression and I still found a way to connect it to space and Mars!

Please post your comments/questions on The Space Show blog.  You can contact Dr. Levin through his website, www.gillevin.com.


1. Don Davis - January 20, 2014

Who knows if Viking’s results indicated life on Mars? Some day the verdict will be in, either Levin will be vindicated or he will look like a sore loser. I do think it is wise to bend over backwards not to announce discovery of life on Mars without being really sure. The later learning that such an announcement was mistaken would be unaffordable to exobiology as a respected field.

He is on much less stable ground when talking about ‘green patches on rocks’. Yes the photos can be colored so gray looks green, no the rocks are not green but the basaltic rocks are gray on dust free portions.
This is a micro example of the mistaking of the Martian dark areas for wide vegetation. Both are examples of the rocky vs dust colored surfaces that color the Martian surface at all scales. As time passes more variation in colors of rocks should be seen as different types are found, as in the case of the specimen just dislodged by the Opportunity rover.

My review of the book he co-authored, ‘Mars The Living Planet’ can be read here:


2. Kelly Starks - October 19, 2013

Very interesting show, sorry I couldn’t listen to it live. It does seem from your you have a high likelihood that life has been discovered on Mars.

As to why NASA would try so hard to deny even the possibility of life. Aside from mere reluctance to take a stand on anything controversial, I would think the most likely reason is the threat to NASA’s Mars (and potentially other) exploration programs if life seemed likely there. Both from political pressure from ecology groups not to disrupt an alien ecology with something from Earth, or the potential to infect Earth from something returned from Mars. Granted these arguments seem irrational; but given the way the SETI programs political support was trashed in congress by “Face on Mars” and UFO folks popping up in the conversation, its not unreasonable to think “Green” political opposition could kneecap the already weak support for Mars exploration.

3. Jase - October 9, 2013

I remember at the time listening to your very first interview with Gil Levin, as well as his first appearance with you on the John Batchelor show. I would so like for him to be proven right about the validity of his Viking Experiment results and microbial life on Mars, and I believe that he will be proven correct. I love hearing this guy talk about Mars, the Merchant Marine during WW2, or anything else. Thanks for a great interview David.

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