Feeds

NASA: Mars is good habitat for Terry Pratchett dragons

That's the gist, anyway

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

In a development which may untwist a few knickers around the internet, NASA scientists have now explained just what their Phoenix robot lander has found in the soil of Mars - and what the implications are for possible discovery of life on the Red Planet.

Following news that the White House had received secret briefings in advance of any public announcement, internet speculation was rife. Some believed that life - or anyway hospitable conditions for it - had been found. Others said that no, in fact proof positive had been found that Mars could not harbour life, perhaps casting doubt on the value of President Bush's ambitious plans to send a manned mission there.

The truth is somewhat more mundane, according to NASA. Some unusual chemicals, normally seen as poisonous, have been found in the Martian soil at the lander's location. However, according to the NASA boffins, the presence of these perchlorates doesn't mean that life can't exist on Mars.

"Finding perchlorates is neither good nor bad for life, but it does make us reassess how we think about life on Mars," said Michael Hecht from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory - in charge of one of the Phoenix's main dirt-sniffing instruments.

NASA says:

Perchlorates are found naturally on Earth at such places as Chile's hyper-arid Atacama Desert. The compounds are quite stable and do not destroy organic material under normal circumstances. Some microorganisms on Earth are fueled by processes that involve perchlorates, and some plants concentrate the substance. Perchlorates are also used in rocket fuel and fireworks.

So, if we're following this correctly*, there could possibly be Martian animals with perchlorate-fuelled metabolisms, living off perchlorate-concentrating plants. Though there would be a significant risk of these creatures catching fire or exploding if upset - not unlike Terry Pratchett's Discworld dragons, in fact.

On the other hand, you do get the vibe that NASA would really rather not have found perchlorates - indeed would have infinitely preferred it if a little green man had walked up and peered into Phoenix's cameras by now.

More from NASA here. ®

* SCIENCE QUALITY WARNING: The chance that we are following this correctly is roughly equivalent to that of a man with no arms throwing a handful of jelly through a falling doughnut at fifty yards without touching the sides.

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Scale data protection with your virtual environment
To scale at the rate of virtualization growth, data protection solutions need to adopt new capabilities and simplify current features.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?