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Missing Piece Inspires New Look at Mars Puzzle

Copyright NASA

Experiments prompted by a 2008 surprise from NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander suggest that soil examined by NASA’s Viking Mars landers in 1976 may have contained carbon-based chemical building blocks of life.

“This doesn’t say anything about the question of whether or not life has existed on Mars, but it could make a big difference in how we look for evidence to answer that question,” said Chris McKay of NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. McKay coauthored a study published online by the Journal of Geophysical Research – Planets, reanalyzing results of Viking’s tests for organic chemicals in Martian soil.

The only organic chemicals identified when the Viking landers heated samples of Martian soil were chloromethane and dichloromethane — chlorine compounds interpreted at the time as likely contaminants from cleaning fluids. But those chemicals are exactly what the new study found when a little perchlorate — the surprise finding from Phoenix — was added to desert soil from Chile containing organics and analyzed in the manner of the Viking tests.

“Our results suggest that not only organics, but also perchlorate, may have been present in the soil at both Viking landing sites,” said the study’s lead author, [...]

NASA Rover Finds Clue to Mars’ Past And Environment for Life

Copyright NASA

Rocks examined by NASA’s Spirit Mars Rover hold evidence of a wet, non-acidic ancient environment that may have been favorable for life. Confirming this mineral clue took four years of analysis by several scientists.

An outcrop that Spirit examined in late 2005 revealed high concentrations of carbonate, which originates in wet, near-neutral conditions, but dissolves in acid. The ancient water indicated by this find was not acidic.

NASA’s rovers have found other evidence of formerly wet Martian environments. However the data for those environments indicate conditions that may have been acidic. In other cases, the conditions were definitely acidic, and therefore less favorable as habitats for life.

Laboratory tests helped confirm the carbonate identification. The findings were published online Thursday, June 3 by the journal Science.

“This is one of the most significant findings by the rovers,” said Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Squyres is principal investigator for the Mars twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and a co-author of the new report. “A substantial carbonate deposit in a Mars outcrop tells us that conditions that could have been quite favorable for life were present at one time in that place. [...]

NASA’s Mars Rovers Set Surface Longevity Record

Copyright NASA

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Project will pass a historic Martian longevity record on Thursday, May 20. The Opportunity rover will surpass the duration record set by NASA’s Viking 1 Lander of six years and 116 days operating on the surface of Mars. The effects of favorable weather on the red planet could also help the rovers generate more power. Opportunity’s twin rover, Spirit, began working on Mars three weeks before Opportunity. However, Spirit has been out of communication since March 22. If it awakens from hibernation and resumes communication, that rover will attain the Martian surface longevity record. Spirit’s hibernation was anticipated, based on energy forecasts, as the amount of sunshine hitting the robot’s solar panels declined during autumn on Mars’ southern hemisphere. Unfortunately, mobility problems prevented rover operators from positioning Spirit with a favorable tilt toward the north, as during the first three winters it experienced. The rovers’ fourth winter solstice, the day of the Martian year with the least sunshine at their locations, was Wednesday, May 12. “Opportunity, and likely Spirit, surpassing the Viking Lander 1 longevity record is truly remarkable, considering these rovers were designed for only a 90-day mission on the surface of [...]

Mission to Mars – 2000

Mission to Mars

Although it’s not one of Brian De Palma’s best, it’s a good movie for science fiction enthusiasts.

More details at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0183523/