Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Is Martian Soil Fertile For Earthen Gardens?

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After various reports surfaced online that the Phoenix lander had discovered the potentail for life on Mars, it looks as if the red planet may be somewhat more hostile than what scientists were previously hoping for.

(MSNBC) The views expressed at Tuesday's teleconference were much more nuanced. "How this perchlorate in the soil affects habitability is a complex question that we certainly don't have the final answer on," Smith said.

On Earth, perchlorates are considered toxic contaminants requiring environmental cleanup. They're the main ingredient in solid rocket fuel and can be found in fireworks and other explosives. In fact, scientists still have to rule out the possibility that the perchlorates actually came from the Delta 2 rocket that sent the Phoenix spacecraft out of Earth orbit. (The lander itself used a hydrazine fuel that didn't contain perchlorates.) [...]

However, some organisms actually thrive on perchlorates and have been enlisted for cleaning up chemical spills. Perchlorate-loving microbes have been found in Chile's Atacama Desert and Antarctica — two of the places that have been compared to the Red Planet's cold, dry environment.
While more research has to be conducted to determine whether or not the perchlorate came from Phoenix, humanity may discover Mars to be an infertile world, which means that humans may have to import fertilizer from their homeworld (or create their own naturally).

(Image Credit: NASA)

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