"Finding perchlorates is neither good nor bad for life, but it does make us reassess how we think about life on Mars," said Michael Hecht of NASA?s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., lead scientist for the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA), the instrument that includes the wet chemistry laboratory.
If confirmed, the result is exciting, Hecht said, "because different types of perchlorate salts have interesting properties that may bear on the way things work on Mars if -- and that's a big 'if ' -- the results from our two teaspoons of soil are representative of all of Mars, or at least a significant portion of the planet."
The Phoenix team had wanted to check the finding with another lander instrument, the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA), which heats soil and analyzes gases driven off. But as that TEGA experiment was underway last week, speculative news reports surfaced claiming the team was holding back a major finding regarding habitability on Mars.
"The Phoenix project has decided to take an unusual step" in talking about the research when its scientists are only about half-way through the data collection phase and have not yet had time to complete data analysis or perform needed laboratory work, said Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson. Scientists are still at the stage where they are examining multiple hypotheses, given evidence that the soil contains perchlorate.
"We decided to show the public science in action because of the extreme interest in the Phoenix mission, which is searching for a habitable environment on the northern plains of Mars," Smith added. "Right now, we don't know whether finding perchlorate is good news or bad news for possible life on Mars."
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.
Perchlorate was discovered with a multi-use sensor that detects perchlorate, nitrate and other ions. The MECA team saw the perchlorate signal in a sample taken from the Dodo-Goldilocks trench on June 25, or Sol 30, or the 30th Martian day of the mission after landing, and again in another sample taken from the Snow White trench on July 6, or Sol 41.
When TEGA heated a sample of soil dug from the Dodo-Goldilocks trench on Sol 25 to high temperature, it detected an oxygen release, said TEGA lead scientist William Boynton of the University of Arizona. Perchlorate could be one of several possible sources of this oxygen, he said.
Late last week, when TEGA analyzed another sample, this one from the Snow White trench, the TEGA team looked for chlorine gas. The instrument detected none."Had we seen it, the identification of perchlorate would be absolutely clear, but in this run we did not see any chlorine gas. We may have been analyzing a perchlorate salt that doesn't release chlorine gas upon heating," Boynton said.
"There's nothing in the TEGA data that contradicts MECA's finding of perchlorates."
As the Phoenix team continues its investigation of the artic soil, the TEGA instrument will attempt to validate the perchlorate discovery and determine its concentration and properties.
The Phoenix mission is led by Smith with project management at JPL, and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, located in Denver. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus in Denmark; the Max Planck Institute in Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.
MEDIA CONTACTS:Veronica McGregor/Guy Webster 818-354-5011 Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Veronica.email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.orgDwayne Brown 202-358-1726
Scientists discover particles similar to Majorana fermions
25.10.2016 | Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters
Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves
24.10.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie
Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.
This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences
25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
25.10.2016 | Process Engineering