Perchlorate salts: a major find on Mars

Aug. 6, 2008 at 12:48 PM
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TUCSON, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- U.S. space agency scientists say the discovery of perchlorate salts on Mars makes them reassess how they think about possible Martian life.

Scientists involved with the Phoenix Mars Lander mission met Tuesday in an ongoing investigation of perchlorate salts detected in soil analyzed by the spacecraft's wet chemistry laboratory.

The discovery of Martian perchlorates is exciting, said Michael Hecht of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and lead scientist for the instrument that identified the perchlorate. Since different types of perchlorate salts have interesting properties, they might bear on the way things work on Mars, he said. Should the results of the lab tests be confirmed, the study's results might be representative of all of Mars -- or at least a significant portion of the planet, Hecht said.

"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," said Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona-Tucson. "Right now, we don't know whether finding perchlorate is good news or bad news for possible life on Mars."

Perchlorates are ions, or charged particles, that are found on Earth.

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