In the emotional soap opera that is the search for life on Mars, one of the main players—the habitability of Martian soil—may have just lapsed into a coma.
Overturning reports from last month that Martian soil may be nutritional enough for asparagus to grow, a new report from the Phoenix lander indicates that it may not be as much of a gardener’s dream as first hoped.
“Finding perchlorates is neither good nor bad for life, but it does make us reassess how we think about life on Mars.”
Instead, the latest results show that the dirt from the lander’s location may contain perchlorates, highly oxidizing substances that could doom “any potential life.”
NASA personnel quickly clarified the meaning of the discovery, especially in the face of unexplained rumors that it had briefed the White House on Martian life. “Finding perchlorates is neither good nor bad for life, but it does make us reassess how we think about life on Mars,” said the Jet Propulsion Lab’s Michael Hecht in a NASA news release.
“Initial MECA analyses suggested Earthlike soil,” commented Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith. “Further analysis has revealed un-Earthlike aspects of the soil chemistry.”
MECA, short for Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer, is one of Phoenix’s on-board instruments. While it detected the perchlorate, another on-board instrument, TEGA (Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer), did not detect the substance.
“This is surprising since an earlier TEGA measurement of surface materials was consistent with but not conclusive of the presence of perchlorate,” Smith added.
Adding to the confusing pile of detections and non-detections is the specter of contamination from earth. Barry Goldstein, Phoenix project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, cautioned that “when surprising results are found, we want to review and assure our extensive pre-launch contamination control processes covered this potential.”
And so the long-running soap opera in the search for life on Mars goes on. Even in the ups and downs, and in the many uncertainties in-between, many people—most of them Darwinian evolutionists—cling close to their faith that life was once on Mars and will, sooner or later, be discovered. Of course, the view doesn’t line up with the evidence so far; but for evolutionists, any evidence that suggests we may be alone in the universe is bound to generate more than a little cognitive dissonance.
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