The perchlorate chemical, often times used in solid rocket fuel, is an odd
discovery, forcing researchers to try and check to ensure the chemical didn't
get taken to Mars from Earth. Several more soil tests in the area will be
conducted by researchers, although they are not sure how the chemical develops
or the exact amount of it in the soil.
"While we have not completed our process on these soil samples, we
have very interesting intermediate results," said Peter Smith,
principal investigator from the project.
The Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer aboard the Phoenix
recently tested two different soil samples collected at the north pole.
MECA previously painted a rather optimistic picture about the possibility of
life on the Red Planet, which became more believable after evidence of ice
crumbs found on the planet.
NASA decided to use MECA on Mars because it is able to test the acidity and
presence of certain chemicals, salts and minerals in all collected soil
Researchers believe it's still possible that life has existed on the planet,
and believe it's possible life could be found in underground aquifers that are
able to help reduce exposure to the toxic soil.
Alongside MECA, NASA also is using the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA)
to help try and find evidence of organic chemicals and the possibility of life
on the Mars' surface.
Brown University researcher John Mustard, who doesn't have a hand in the
project, said that all researchers should reserve judgment regarding the
possibility of life on the Red Planet because of the existence of perchlorate.
quote: its certainly a strike against the possibility of life
quote: Perchlorate's chemical formula is ClO4-, and is found naturally on earth, typically as part of a salt with a positive ion. It was once thought to be such a strong oxidizing agent that it was considered incompatible with organic compounds, leading to some of the rumors that circulated about findings of a chemical that could kill. Since then, however, it has not only been found in deposits with organic compounds, but microbes have been discovered that actually use it as the primary oxidizing agent in their metabolism.