Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Good news or bad news for life on Mars?

The UA Phoenix Mars Lander team held a press conference yesterday in response to speculative news reports claiming the team was holding back a major finding regarding habitability on Mars.

"Right now, we don't know whether finding perchlorate is good news or bad news for possible life on Mars," according to project leader Peter Smith.

According to the UA press release, "Perchlorate was discovered with a multi-use sensor that detects perchlorate, nitrate and other ions. Perchlorate is an ion, or charged particle, that consists of an atom of chlorine surrounded by four oxygen atoms. It is an oxidant, that is, it can release oxygen, but it is not a powerful one. Perchlorates are found naturally on Earth at such places as Chile's hyper-arid Atacama Desert. The compounds are quite stable and do not destroy organic material under normal circumstances. Some microorganisms on Earth are fueled by processes that involve perchlorates, and some plants concentrate the substance. Perchlorates are also used in rocket fuel and fireworks. "

"Finding perchlorates is neither good nor bad for life, but it does make us reassess how we think about life on Mars," said Michael Hecht of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., lead scientist for the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA), the instrument that includes the wet chemistry laboratory.

The team wants to check the results with another lander instrument, the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA) [above, UA]

1 comment:

  1. Good question Chuck. I haven't seen anything addressing that specifically, but there's a post today over at looking at the Martian perchlorate as a rocket fuel for passing astronauts -

    Scroll back a few posts at that site and you'll also find rumors that the White House was being briefed about some purported major announcement on Martian life.