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Mars Space Science

Mars Soil Appears To Be Able To Sustain Life 337

Posted by timothy
from the expensive-way-to-replenish-topsoil dept.
beckerist writes "Scientists working on the Phoenix Mars Lander mission, which has already found ice on the planet, said preliminary analysis by the lander's instruments on a sample of soil scooped up by the spacecraft's robotic arm had shown it to be much more alkaline than expected. Sam Kounaves, the lead investigator for the wet chemistry laboratory on Phoenix, told journalists: 'It is the type of soil you would probably have in your back yard, you know, alkaline. You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well. ... It is very exciting for us.'"
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Mars Soil Appears To Be Able To Sustain Life

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  • by ForestGrump (644805) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @06:00PM (#23958127) Homepage Journal

    It would probably lead to a very smelly planet.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 26, 2008 @06:01PM (#23958135)

    Let's hope the lander doesn't break down before next year's asparagus season.

  • send seeds (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BlackSnake112 (912158)

    Lets see if it works. Send a bunch of seeds that we think will grow there. Of course the lack of water might be a problem. Are there any arctic cactus?

    • by Rogerborg (306625) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @06:07PM (#23958235) Homepage
      Lichen [wikipedia.org], although don't beat yourself up about being unable to find that information despite having the totality of human knowledge at your fingertips. Your mother probably drank a lot during pregnancy.
      • Re:send seeds (Score:5, Interesting)

        by NoobixCube (1133473) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @06:19PM (#23958435) Journal
        The problem with having the totality of human knowledge at one's fingertips is the necessary base knowledge. I know nothing about plant life, beyond that I need to mow the lawn every so often. I wouldn't have known to look up lichen as a possible candidate for growing on Mars. I thought lichen was like moss, and needed darkness and damp conditions.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I know nothing about plant life, beyond that I need to mow the lawn every so often.
          Need? You CHOOSE to mow the lawn. It's not a necessity in this age of robots. And goats, for that matter. WELCOME TO THE AGE OF GOATS.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by marams (1274388)
          GP may not be polite, but he's right. Lichen are the best adapted plants on Antarctica [thinkquest.org]. And Antarctica is the closest Mars like environment you get on Earth, dry and cold. Some Lichens survive there with a few hours photosynthesis per year.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Thiez (1281866)

        It says that lichen still needs water to grow, it can just manage to survive without it for long periods of time. If there is no liquid water available on mars, the lichen would die eventually.

      • Re:send seeds (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Original Replica (908688) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @07:11PM (#23959243) Journal
        Lichen and high altitude soil bacteria were my first thoughts as well.
        Knowing the right questions to ask has always been more valuable than a large amount of rote knowledge when it comes to problem solving. Failing to teach this kind of skill is one of the great weaknesses of our modern school system. Rote memory is dropping into an even less important role as the information age progresses, even as public schools face more and more standardized tests as their educational benchmark. All that said, in a social world, grace and courtesy can play almost as much of a role in getting your ideas heard as having the right answer.
  • FTA: (Score:5, Funny)

    by Farmer Tim (530755) <roundfile@mind[ ]s.com ['les' in gap]> on Thursday June 26, 2008 @06:03PM (#23958183) Journal

    You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well. ... It is very exciting for us.

    And I thought I didn't get out much.

    • Re:FTA: (Score:5, Funny)

      by __NR_kill (1018116) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @06:17PM (#23958411)

      growing weed should be more interesting, over there it's nobody's jurisdiction :)

  • 1 cubic meter? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bob_herrick (784633) <bob.herrick@gma[ ]com ['il.' in gap]> on Thursday June 26, 2008 @06:04PM (#23958199)
    TFA refers to a 1 cubic meter sample (35 cubic feet). That is one sweet lander...
    • by MadCow42 (243108)

      Objects in picture are larger than they appear.

      Seems like a HHGTTG scale issue. :) Be careful which words you choose.

      MadCow.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by amitofu (705703)

        In a related martian breakthrough [spaceflightnow.com], apparently an asteroid hit Mars with an energy of "1029 joules, which is equivalent to 100 billion gigatons of TNT."

        I assume they meant 10^29 J. But still, the inability of most scientific journalist's to even check the plausibility of their figures is astounding.

        • Re:1 cubic meter? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by pushing-robot (1037830) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @07:35PM (#23959619)

          In a related martian breakthrough [spaceflightnow.com], apparently an asteroid hit Mars with an energy of "1029 joules, which is equivalent to 100 billion gigatons of TNT."

          I assume they meant 10^29 J. But still, the inability of most scientific journalist's to even check the plausibility of their figures is astounding.

          The original text was probably a word/rtf/odf document with the "29" in superscript, but the superscripting got stripped out during conversion. Happens all the time.
    • Re:1 cubic meter? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Vectronic (1221470) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @06:28PM (#23958601)

      I found that to be rather large as well, but according to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]:

      The lander has a mass of 350 kg, and measures 2.2 m tall by 5.5 m long with its solar panels deployed. The science deck is about 1.5 m in diameter. ...

      The Robotic Arm (RA) is designed to extend 2.35 m from its base on the lander, and have the ability to dig down to 0.5 m below the surface.

      And from the Wiki picture [wikipedia.org] and the article picture [reuters.com] the bucket looks like it may be about 6 inches wide...

      However, I still doubt that they actually scooped up 1^3 meter of soil, but rather parts of an area that is 1^3 meter...

    • by jdray (645332)

      I noticed that, too. And they got it from one inch below the surface. Not impossible, but quite a feat for a remotely controlled robot with a teeny-tiny scoop and a relatively short arm.

  • So nothing originally from Earth, then...
  • AP News Article (Score:3, Informative)

    by kingmundi (54911) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @06:07PM (#23958245)


    http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5j1hvRUNc9W-3lupLU6TLQtR0gdRAD91I04D01 [google.com]

    Some quotes...

    Preliminary results showed the soil had a pH between 8 and 9, researchers said. A pH less than 7 means the solution is acidic, while a pH over 7 means it is salty. Phoenix also detected the presence of magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride in the mixture.

    "It's typical of the soil here on Earth minus the organics," Kounaves said during a teleconference from Tucson, Ariz. ...

    The heating experiment, which was designed to look for organics, did not yield conclusive evidence of carbon. Scientists planned to study another soil sample taken from further below the surface.

  • How else is the Wong family supposed to live there.
  • "With six Dr. Quinns, we can teraform Mars - and do it RIGHT this time! ...Yeeeah!"

    --Dr. Quinn, "Lost in Time" episode

    P.S. "Take that, subspace!" --Stormy

  • Ok so how many asteroids do we need to crash into Mars to give it some greenhouse gases and an atmosphere similar to Earth's?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by jwkfs (1260442)
      To generate a new atmosphere you would need volcanic activity (which Mars apparently has not had in a while) to start the greenhouse effect. Mars is too cold and geologically dead to develop a new Earth-like atmosphere. A collision probably wouldn't help.

      In fact, it's possible that a collision was responsible for destroying a previous Earth-like atmosphere on Mars.
    • Re:So... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by camperdave (969942) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @07:00PM (#23959079) Journal
      Ok so how many asteroids do we need to crash into Mars to give it some greenhouse gases and an atmosphere similar to Earth's?

      You'll want to be crashing comets into Mars, not asteriods. After all, what is crashing a rock into Mars going to do, apart from adding a new crater? Crashing a couple of megatons of CO2, H2O, and other gasses into Mars, well that's a different story. Not only do you get your brand new crater, but you add a couple of megatons of C02, H2O, and other gasses to the atmosphere.
  • Asparagus is exciting for me, too!

    That's some interesting stuff, especially the fact that there's nothing they found in the soil that was toxic. Now if only there was more funding towards going anywhere with this information.
  • Martian Red (Score:5, Funny)

    by JustOK (667959) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @06:16PM (#23958383) Journal

    Martian pot is what I'm waiting for. I'm sure it would be outta this world.

  • They've already found the water. Why didn't they send up some seeds?

  • NEWS FLASH! (Score:5, Funny)

    by ROMRIX (912502) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @06:17PM (#23958413) Homepage

    You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well. ...

    I can see the headlines now in all the papers, when this quote goes mainstream;

    TOP SCIENTIST CLAIM MARS SOIL SUPPORTS ASPARAGUS LIKE LIFE FORMS!
    • by owlnation (858981)

      Top Scientist Claims Mars Soil Supports Asparagus Like Life Forms!
      and this finally explains why the little green men are green.
    • by Z34107 (925136)

      No kidding. A while ago, I read about a 8-year study that was conducted on health. They took a few thousand people, followed them for 8 years, measuring dietary information periodically. IIRC they found that, of those who died of natural (non-accidental) causes, a statistically significant number of them had low levels of vitamin D in their diet.

      Correct statement: Of those subjects deceased over the course of the study, a significant group had low vitamin D intake.

      The headline in my local newspaper,

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 26, 2008 @06:18PM (#23958429)

    Just more evidence that Big Asparagus has co-opted our national science agenda.

  • Life? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Godji (957148)
    Assuming that at some point some tiny little bacteria-like thingy is actually found on Mars, what guarantee do we have that it originated there, as opposed to coming from Earth as contamination during any of our Mars missions?

    And why am I unable to write in short sentences?
    • Re:Life? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 26, 2008 @06:27PM (#23958591)

      as opposed to coming from Earth as contamination during any of our Mars missions?
      Great pains are taken to make sure any and all things landing on Mars from Earth are completely serile. The concern you mention was a pretty big one - when scientists first figured out how to solve it decades ago.
    • by Shadowlore (10860)

      Because we stamped each microorganism with "Made on Earth"?

      What guarantee do we have that life on Earth isn't the result of contamination from meteorite impacts?

      Why? Because.

  • Asparagas is great and all... no really. But any possibility of any other veggies that can grow up there??? What makes asparagas different from other vegetables?
  • by Azuma Hazuki (955769) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @06:28PM (#23958607)
    Has everyone forgotten Mars has no ozone layer? The soil may contain the necessary minerals and other nutrients, but it's baked under UV rays and (last I heard) full of peroxides and other unfriendly chemicals as a result. Starting with plants is putting the cart before the horse; we should be thinking about extremophiles if we're serious about this. And would it be ethical?

  •   So what happens if we start firing off missions to try and seed life? Without much of an atmosphere, would we need a dome of some sort? How would temperature extremes be moderated?

  • by joshtheitguy (1205998) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @06:34PM (#23958693)
    Fry: Back in the 20th century we had no idea there was a university on Mars.

    Farnsworth: Well, in those days, Mars was just a dreary uninhabitable wasteland. Much like Utah. But unlike Utah, it was eventually made livable.

  • ... MarsHydro.com [marshydro.com] (Semi tongue in cheek teaser site created in 2000 when NASA first discovered evidence of PRIOR water on Mars in the form of those gullies.)
  • You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well. ... It is very exciting for us.

    Now I'm going to be really suspicious should the next lander actually find Asparagus ...

  • by Xelios (822510) on Thursday June 26, 2008 @07:45PM (#23959749)
    To Mars, Again!

    WASHINGTON -- NASA has submitted funding proposals for a new Mars mission, scheduled to launch in 2012. The mission will entail a new Mars lander called the Advanced Series Polymorphic Asparagus Research Automated Growing Unit Seedfarm, or ASPARAGUS, and is expected to grow several varieties of asparagus in martian soil.

    "[We] might be able to grow asparagus in it really well... It is very exciting for us" says Sam Kounaves, mission planner for the new endevour.

    The lander will be expected to gather soil and deposit it into a 'grow-op' like container, where asparagus seeds will be added to the mix. "We just don't know what will happen after that, it will be very exciting to watch the developments unfold over subsequent weeks." he adds.

    Included in the lander will be a CD filled with asparagus recipies for future astronauts of the first manned Mars mission, planned for 2050. "The CD will contain dozens of recipies all featuring asparagus as the main ingredient. Things like boiled asparagus, steamed asparagus, steam boiled asparagus, fried asparagus, and even just plain asparagus!" says Angela Schmidt, the mission's asparagus habilitation expert.

    The $480 million project is expected to be greenlit later this year.


  • All we need now is carbon dioxide, an ozone layer, liquid water, warmer temps, higher atmospheric pressure, and a new atmosphere and we're all set!

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