SNow that the Phoenix lander is up there digging trenches on Mars, conspiracy theories are starting to swirl. This week, even the mainstream media was abuzz with reports that NASA was withholding a major announcement - the discovery of life (or evidence of past life) on Mars. The wild speculation forced NASA to go ahead and reveal what they did find, or might have found, or think they found - and what it all possibly maybe potentially means for the existence of extraterrestrial life.After digging up a few teaspoons of Martian soil, Phoenix ran some chemical analyses. It baked some soil to see what gases were given off, and found a puff of oxygen. That could mean a few different things, but one of the possibilities is that the soil contained perchlorate salts, which are made of oxygen and chlorine molecules. That's interesting because perchlorates can act as food for some microrganisms and are a byproduct of some plant life processes. So why is NASA so ambivalent about this discovery? For one thing, they didn't detect any chlorine yet, so they aren't sure if they really found perchlorates at all. And even if they did, the presence of perchlorates is not evidence of prior living organisms, and neither does the it preclude prior living organisms. What is unusual is that NASA chose to reveal details of an ongoing scientific investigation before they had really confirmed anything. Are they just feeling the pressure from the public relations department, or are they stalling until they're ready for the big reveal? Image by: NASA. Martian Life Or Not? NASA's Phoenix Team Analyzes Results. [Science Daily]
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