Martian Chemical May Put Slight Doubt on Possibility of Life

By Andrew Moseman | August 6, 2008 10:48 am

Phoenix Lander FootprintA week after confirming that the Mars Phoenix Lander had discovered ice in the Martial soil, NASA scientists announced that it may have uncovered something else—perchlorate, a type of organic salt that had never been found on Mars before.

At a press conference on Tuesday, researchers said the find raises a number of questions about Martian geochemistry, particularly about the flow of water on the planet. But they said its discovery will likely have little bearing on the key question of whether or not Mars might be able to host life [New Scientist].


Some had worried that the presence of perchlorate would preclude the possibility of life on Mars because these chemicals are hazardous to humans and many other animals. But they aren’t dangerous to all life; in fact, certain organisms depend on them—in Chile’s Atacama Desert, some microbes use oxygen from naturally occurring perchlorate for energy [Science News].

Though NASA scientists still have doubts about the finding—their analysis isn’t finished, and they haven’t ruled out that the perchlorate came from the Phoenix’s rocket boosters—they held the press conference in response to swirling online rumors that the Phoenix Lander had found something big, and scientists had briefed the White House. Soon speculation was running rampant on the Web, which prompted “an unusual step and a break with scientific tradition,” as Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson, put it on today’s press teleconference [Science].

And though perchlorate on Mars wouldn’t rule out the possibility of life, some scientists still see it as a bad sign. “Perchlorate is not a particularly nice thing to find in the soil,” said astrobiologist Kenneth Nealson of the University of Southern California. “No one hunting for life would be happy to see it in any sort of abundance. Although some microbes on Earth thrive on perchlorate, “it is not a molecule of choice for most life.” [AP].

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M)

Related Posts: Mars Phoenix Lander Gets Its First Taste of Martian Ice
Martian Soil Could Grow Asparagus
It’s Official: There Is Ice on Mars
Mars Phoenix Still Looking for That First Ice Cube
Mars Lander Fumbles Soil Sample
A Healthy Mars Lander Gets to Work

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space
  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2008/08/06/martian-chemical-may-put-slight-doubt-on-possibility-of-life/ Ramesh

    Perchlorate on Mars

    This mission should not have been approved. After success of rovers NASA should have sent a rover. I would definetly agree the chemical analyser is working very good that it found perchlorate on Mars. The perchlorate could have come from the Phoenix Lander when trying to land.

  • http://bit.ly/b7wYot Deangelo Tonas

    […] http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2008/08/06/martian-chemical-may-put-slight-doubt-on-possibility-of-life – Martian Chemical May Put Slight Doubt on Possibility of Life | 80beats | Discover Magazine…We offer studio, one, two, and three bedroom fully furnished units, most with full kitchens, and accommodating from 2 to 8 people. Bookmarked and Pinged by http://www.westweeks.com/ [...]

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