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The existence of a toxic chemical discovered in the Martian soil could reduce the chances of life being found on the planet

Even though there appears to be traces of water on the Red Planet of Mars, a toxic chemical found in the soil located near the Martian north pole has put a damper on the possibility of life on the planet.

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 samples.

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.



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From JPL
By marsbound2024 on 8/5/2008 8:11:53 PM , Rating: 3
"Mission scientists today discussed their current investigation into percholate salts detected in Martian soil. The salts are neither good nor bad for life, said one scientist, but do make us reassess how we think about life on Mars. (Aug. 5)"

"Perchlorate is an ion, or charged particle, that consists of an atom of chlorine surrounded by four oxygen atoms. It is an oxidant, that is, it can release oxygen, but it is not a powerful one. Perchlorates are found naturally on Earth at such places as Chile's hyper-arid Atacama Desert. The compounds are quite stable and do not destroy organic material under normal circumstances. Some microorganisms on Earth are fueled by processes that involve perchlorates, and some plants concentrate the substance. Perchlorates are also used in rocket fuel and fireworks. "

Link to article: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2008...




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