Sunday, June 29, 2008

Scientists say Martian soil could support life

Scientists say Martian soil could support life Scientists say Martian soil could support life The Robotic Arm on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander carries a scoop of Martian soil bound for the spacecraft's microscope in handout photo released on June 13, 2008. REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Handout

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Flabbergasted" NASA scientists said on Thursday that first analysis of Martian soil appeared to contain the requirements to support life.

Scientists working on the Mars Phoenix Lander mission said preliminary analysis by the lander's instruments on a sample of soil scooped up by its robotic arm had shown it to be much more alkaline than expected.

"We basically have found what appears to be the requirements, the nutrients, to support life whether past present or future," Sam Kounaves, the lead investigator for the wet chemistry laboratory, told journalists.

"It is the type of soil you would probably have in your back yard, you know, alkaline. You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well. ... It is very exciting for us."

"We were all flabbergasted at the data we got back," Kounaves said.

The scientists would not go as far as saying they now believe that life, even mere microbes, definitively existed on Mars, saying the results were very preliminary and more analysis was needed.

"There is nothing about the soil that would preclude life. In fact it seems very friendly.... there is nothing about it that is toxic," Kounaves said

Phoenix landed on Mars on May 25 after a 10-month journey.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant, editing by Patricia Zengerle)

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