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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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RE: We presume too much
By JediJeb on 8/6/2008 2:14:57 PM , Rating: 2
After reading the two articles above, there is still no evidence that there is a perchlorate that would perclude life. With the fact that oxygen was released, but not chlorine upon heating to 1000 C It would appear the chlorine(if present) is tightly bound to the cations of the salts. The chlorine is the part that would kill off living organisms, so if it is tightly bound it may still be safe. Plus the oxygen that is available from these salts could provide oxygen for life possibly.

Another thing to consider here is if by heating these salts you can generate oxygen, and there is a large abundance of these salts, then there might be an ample supply of oxygen stored there for use in a manned mission. One of the biggest hurdles of a manned mission is the ability to carry enough oxygen for breathing and fuel, maybe we just need to send an automated oxygen refinery ahead to make our supply.


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