The news and blogosphere is all abuzz with various theories and news, that they have found perchlorate, and this is surprising scientists at NASA,
Its been found in the soil near where the rocket landed, and it also occurs naturally on earth,
if you are wondering what perchlorate is, well its used in rocket fuel, and wikipedia has this to say about it;
Perchlorates are the salts derived from perchloric acid (HClO4). They occur both naturally and through manufacturing. They have been used as a medicine for more than 50 years to treat thyroid gland disorders. They are also used as an oxidizer in rocket fuel and explosives and can be found in airbags and fireworks. Both potassium perchlorate (KClO4) and ammonium perchlorate (NH4ClO4) are used extensively within the pyrotechnics industry, whereas ammonium perchlorate is a component of solid rocket fuel. Lithium perchlorate, which decomposes exothermically to give oxygen, is used in oxygen "candles" on spacecraft, submarines and in other esoteric situations where a reliable backup or supplementary oxygen supply is needed. Most perchlorate salts are soluble in water.
Its not a definitive sign of life, or lack thereof either way, in fact its pretty much an issue of "well yeah, and?"
its a hell of a lot less exciting than when they proved the existence of water!
These perchlorates occur naturally, and coincidentally they occur naturally in the area of the Atacama desert in chile that NASA use as a testing ground for martian missions!
and even though this is one of the driest places on the planet;
The Atacama Desert is a virtually rainless plateau in South America, covering a 966 km (600 mi) strip of land on the Pacific coast of South America, west of the Andes mountains. The rain shadow on the leeward side of the Andes keeps this over 20 million-year-old desert 50 times drier than California's Death Valley. It is the second-driest desert in the world, after the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. The Atacama occupies 181,300 square kilometers (70,000 mi²) in northern Chile, composed mostly of salt basins (salares), sand, and lava flows.It still plays host to plenty of life, nothing which is particularly large in size, but there are even microbes and some life forms that feed on the perchlorates in the soil!
What is particularly unfortunate about NASA releasing these findings is that the results whilst first detected several weeks ago,
using the Wet chemistry lab, they then tried to confirm using the gas analyzer,
but they haven't yet confirmed it as those tests remain incomplete!
As I already mentioned, they picket up these traces near where the rocket landed and plenty of scientists have pointed out that it could be contamination from the rockets
-However-Many other scientists have been quick to point out that the engines use hydrazine and not chlorine ( which is what they might have found)
and when they calibrated the wet chemistry lab after landing they found no traces of perchlorate.
So really its a big question mark that wont be answered until the Mars Science lab arrives, and that isn't even scheduled to launch until 2009
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