Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Phoenix Confirms Presence of Water and Finds "Toxic" Substance in Martian Soil

NASA's Phoenix lander found an unexpected "toxic" substance while analyzing icy soil samples taken near Mars' north pole. This announcement comes just after the announcement confirming water (in ice form) exists on Mars.

The scientists working with the Phoenix mission made the two finds after analyzing the data from the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer which can heat samples up to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. Phoenix then "sniffs" the gasses given off to see what the sample is composed of.

In this case, a soil sample containing scrapings of ice (sampling area shown in above image) were heated and tested to see what the sample contained. Water was found in large amounts indicating the the hard white substance they sampled was in fact water ice. They also made the surprising find of Perchlorate.

The highly reactive salt called Perchlorate in the soil was thought to have possibly been from the rocket fuel used by Phoenix to land on the surface of Mars. But it turns out that this is not contamination since Phoenix's rockets used hydrazine not chlorine as a fuel.

Perchlorate is toxic enough that it could prevent any life from living. Other scientists believe it would have a positive effect for life and could be used as a possible energy source.

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