Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Phoenix Mars Team Opens Window on Scientific Process

06.08.2008
Phoenix Mars mission scientists spoke today on research in progress concerning an ongoing investigation of perchlorate salts detected in soil analyzed by the wet chemistry laboratory aboard NASA's Phoenix Lander.

"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.mcgregor@jpl.nasa.gov, guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
Dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov
Sara Hammond 520-626-1974
University of Arizona
shammond@lpl.arizona.edu

Lori Stiles | University of Arizona
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix
http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Electronic evidence of non-Fermi liquid behaviors in an iron-based superconductor
11.12.2018 | Science China Press

nachricht Physicists edge closer to controlling chemical reactions
11.12.2018 | Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Topological material switched off and on for the first time

Key advance for future topological transistors

Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...

Im Focus: Researchers develop method to transfer entire 2D circuits to any smooth surface

What if a sensor sensing a thing could be part of the thing itself? Rice University engineers believe they have a two-dimensional solution to do just that.

Rice engineers led by materials scientists Pulickel Ajayan and Jun Lou have developed a method to make atom-flat sensors that seamlessly integrate with devices...

Im Focus: Three components on one chip

Scientists at the University of Stuttgart and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) succeed in important further development on the way to quantum Computers.

Quantum computers one day should be able to solve certain computing problems much faster than a classical computer. One of the most promising approaches is...

Im Focus: Substitute for rare earth metal oxides

New Project SNAPSTER: Novel luminescent materials by encapsulating phosphorescent metal clusters with organic liquid crystals

Nowadays energy conversion in lighting and optoelectronic devices requires the use of rare earth oxides.

Im Focus: A bit of a stretch... material that thickens as it's pulled

Scientists have discovered the first synthetic material that becomes thicker - at the molecular level - as it is stretched.

Researchers led by Dr Devesh Mistry from the University of Leeds discovered a new non-porous material that has unique and inherent "auxetic" stretching...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

New Plastics Economy Investor Forum - Meeting Point for Innovations

10.12.2018 | Event News

EGU 2019 meeting: Media registration now open

06.12.2018 | Event News

Expert Panel on the Future of HPC in Engineering

03.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Electronic evidence of non-Fermi liquid behaviors in an iron-based superconductor

11.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Topological material switched off and on for the first time

11.12.2018 | Materials Sciences

NIST's antenna evaluation method could help boost 5G network capacity and cut costs

11.12.2018 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>