One Step Closer To Finding Life – Updated
Yes, Finding It On Mars. A Large Step Closer.
From where I stand, I can’t tell if this more than just a rumor, fact or fiction. We report. You decide.
It would appear that the US President has been briefed by Phoenix scientists about the discovery of something more “provocative” than the discovery of water existing on the Martian surface. This news comes just as the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) confirmed experimental evidence for the existence of water in the Mars regolith on Thursday. Whilst NASA scientists are not claiming that life once existed on the Red Planet’s surface, new data appears to indicate the “potential for life” more conclusively than the TEGA water results. Apparently these new results are being kept under wraps until further, more detailed analysis can be carried out, but we are assured that this announcement will be huge…
This is NOT about the discovery of Life on Mars TM. Neither the Phoenix, nor the various rovers, nor the orbiting missions launched by the U.S. or anyone else is capable of doing that. This is about the Phoenix discovering that water is mixed in the regolith – the surface soil – of Mars. This is about finding that the conditions on the surface of Mars is much more conducive to life than we could hope to believe before.
This new MECA discovery, combined with TEGA data will probably expose something more compelling, completing another piece of the puzzle in the search for the correct conditions for life as we know it to survive on Mars. Critical to this search is to understand how the recently confirmed water and Mars regolith behave together under the Phoenix lander in the cold Martian arctic.
The MECA instrument had already made the landmark discovery that Mars “soil” was much like the soil more familiar on Earth. This finding prompted scientists to indicate that the minerals and pH levels in the regolith could support some terrestrial plants, indicating this would be useful for future Mars settlers.
Maybe we will know something definite before I leave this mortal coil after all!
Addendum: NASA Watch has an excellent rundown of this story to date. Emily Lakdawalla at the Planetary Society has the details of the “Life of Mars” rumor connected to the alleged Presidential Briefing that was the subject of this post (and apparently never happened).
Other outlets ran with this story, re-reporting it as a direct briefing of the President (Covault had only reported a briefing of the President’s Science Advisor, which is very different). I think that everyone who read that thought the same thing, that it implied some announcement was forthcoming with positive news about life on Mars. Why would the President be briefed if it was news about life on Mars being unlikely? And how could the mission be so quick to report a negative result — it’s very hard to prove a negative? As stated, the facts only seemed to add up if there really was something interesting in the pipeline. Covault is a highly respected, knowledgeable, experienced reporter on space exploration, so there was no reason to distrust anything he wrote.
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The problem is that no special briefing happened. Without that, the “discovery concerning the potential for life’ is suddenly much less interesting.
Lastly, it appears that the Wet Chemistry Lab (part of the MECA instrument) discovered “that one of the components of the soil may be an ion called perchlorate (ClO4-), which is an oxidizer.” Oxidizers tend to mess up organic molecules, which would make life on Mars much less probable, to say the least. [Thanks to “Custom Valences” for alerting me to this.] However, this was explicitly not verified by the TEGA experiment. I’m sure they’ll be working to understand this apparent contradiction.