The results of the first ‘wet chemistry’ experiments on Mars soil were returned to Earth last week, revealing conditions that could support life as we know it.
Close up view of fine grained 'fluffy' soil sitting on the Robotic Arm scoop. Scientists have named this sample 'Rosy Red', which was dug from the Snow White trench. Some of this sample was delivered to the wet chemistry laboratory for analysis. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Max Planck Institute.
Scientists say that the Martian soil looks a lot like the kind of soil that can be found in the dry valleys of Antarctica on the Earth, and even shows evidence of water through the presence of salts.
"The alkalinity of the soil at this location is definitely striking," says Sam Kounaves of Tufts University. At this specific location, one inch into the surface layer, the soil is very basic, with a pH of between eight and nine. We also found a variety of components of salts that we haven't had time to analyse and identify yet, but that include magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride."
"We also found a reasonable number of nutrients, or chemicals needed by life as we know it," he continues. "Over time, I've come to the conclusion that the amazing thing about Mars is not that it's an alien world, but that in many aspects, like mineralogy, it's very much like Earth."
The 'Wonderland' digging site which includes the Snow White trenches. Digging and scraping here proves that surface soil, subsurface soil and icy samples can all be taken from one unit. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University.
While the results of the wet chemistry tests continue to be analysed, the Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyser (TEGA) has baked its first soil sample to an impressive 1,000 degrees Celsius. Analysis of the gases released at a range of temperatures is a complicated procedure and will take weeks to process, but will ultimately identify the chemical make-up of the soil and ice that makes up the northern polar region of Mars.
Phoenix digging tools have also been busy in the last few days, sampling surface soil, subsurface soil and icy soil in a single trench. Onboard instruments will test samples to determine if some ice in the soil may have been liquid in the past during warmer climate cycles.
Jun 23 Frozen water confirmed on Mars read more
Jun 19 Bright chunks must have been ice read more
Jun 17 First results from Phoenix bakery read more
Jun 12 An oven full of sand read more
Jun 10 Clumpy Martian soil challenges Phoenix read more
Jun 6 Closest view ever of Mars sand read more
Jun 3 Phoenix scoops up Martian soil read more
Jun 2 Phoenix sees possible ice read more
May 30 Phoenix flexes robotic arm read more
May 28 HiRISE captures Phoenix descent read more
May 26 Spectacular new colour view of Mars read more
May 23 Phoenix prepares for Mars landing read more