‘What a day. Just after I’d hit the publish button on the blog below, musing about what the big news was that the Phoenix lander was rumoured to have discovered about the ‘potential for life’ on Mars, I received a NASA email suggesting Phoenix may have actually found a chemical that might harm life.
It seems that the lander’s wet chemistry lab, part of its MECA instrument, has detected what seems to be perchlorate, a highly oxidising substance, in two soil samples it has studied.
But so far it’s been difficult to confirm the detection with another onboard instrument called TEGA. A soil sample studied by TEGA on Sunday – taken from just above a layer of ice – found no evidence of the compound. But TEGA had found that an earlier sample of soil, taken from near the surface, was “consistent with but not conclusive of the presence of perchlorate”, said principal investigator Peter Smith in a statement.’