Science News

Martian soils good for cabbages.

Sun, 29th Jun 2008

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NASA's Phoenix lander which landed almost a month ago has started giving us our best view of the Martian soil yet.

CabbagesThe lander is sitting on a plain near Mars' northern ice cap and has been digging in the soil and measuring its properties. After some problems in getting some soil inside as it was too clumpy, the thermal and evolved gas analyser run by William Boynton who was on the show a few weeks ago has heated some soil up to 1000 degrees Celcius and measured the gasses coming off. Analysis is still going on but it has apparently definitely interacted with water in the past.

The Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer, or MECA has been giving a microscopic view of the soil and mixing it with water to try and understand the chemistry of the soil, what is dissolved in it etc. These are the first wet chemistry experiments done on any planet other than earth.  The results show that the soils are very like some Antarctic dry valley soils, they have found useful nutrients, such as magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride. They are still analysing their data looking for others, and the pH is between 8 and nine, making it quite alkaline but about right for growing cabbages.


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