Mars soil ‘could support life’June 30, 2008 2:38 am News, Stuff, Technology
Martian soil appears to contain sufficient nutrients to support life – or, at least, asparagus – Nasa scientists believe.
Preliminary analysis by the $420m (£210m) Phoenix Mars Lander mission on the planet’s soil found it to be much more alkaline than expected.
Scientists working on the spacecraft project said they were “flabbergasted” by the discovery.
The find has raised hopes conditions on Mars may be favourable for life.
“We basically have found what appears to be the requirements, the nutrients, to support life, whether past, present or future,” said Sam Kounaves, the project’s lead chemist, from the University of Arizona.
Although he said further tests would have to be conducted, Mr Kounaves said the soil seemed “very friendly… there is nothing about it that is toxic,” he said.
As well as being far less acidic than anticipated, the soil was also found to contain traces of magnesium, sodium, potassium and other elements.
“We were all flabbergasted at the data we got back,” said Mr Kounaves. “It is very exciting for us.”
The analysis is based on a cubic centimetre of soil scooped from 2.5cm (one inch) below Mars’ surface by the lander’s robotic arm.
The sample was then tested using the “wet chemistry” technique, which involves mixing the soil with water brought from Earth and heating the sample in one of the lander’s eight ovens.