NASA: Martian soil may be more alien than first thought

Initial tests showed asparagus would grow on Mars, but now space garden may be out

New test results coming in from the Phoenix Mars Lander suggest that Martian soil may not be so akin to Earth's after all.

A little over a month after NASA scientists announced that they were finding more familiar than alien elements in the soil on Mars from test results sent back by the Lander, researchers now have discovered evidence that that might not be the case after all. They're also double-checking to make sure that the Earth-like elements found by Phoenix on the northern pole of Mars weren't actually brought from Earth and deposited there when the Lander touched down.

"We are committed to following a rigorous scientific process. While we have not completed our process on these soil samples, we have very interesting intermediate results," Peter Smith, Phoenix's principal investigator, said in a written statement released Tuesday. Smith, who is a senior research scientist at the University of Arizona, added that while the initial analyses from the wet chemistry laboratory onboard Phoenix suggested that Martian soil was like that of Earth, "further analysis has revealed un-Earthlike aspects of the soil chemistry."

NASA planned to hold a press conference at 2pm US EDT Tuesday to discuss the findings from the Mars research. In information sent out prior to the press conference, NASA noted that previous tests, including one done in the wet chemistry lab on Phoenix, showed the presence of perchlorate, which is described as a highly oxidizing substance. However, this week, the analysis ovens onboard the Lander sent back new information showing that no evidence of perchlorate was found in a sample taken directly above the ice layer on Mars.

Perchlorate can be found on Earth as both a natural and a man-made contaminant. According to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, the compound is used as an ingredient in solid fuel for rockets and missiles. Perchlorate-based chemicals also are used to build fireworks, pyrotechnics and explosives. "Perchlorate is becoming a serious threat to human health and water resources," the department says on its Web site.

NASA scientists are working to figure out if the Mars Lander could have contaminated the testing area when it landed, or if Phoenix's testing instruments could have contained biological contaminants. "When surprising results are found, we want to review and assure our extensive pre-launch contamination control processes covered this potential," Barry Goldstein, the Phoenix mission's project manager, said in a statement.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?