Saturday, August 02, 2008

Here we go again . . .

The White House is Briefed: Phoenix About to Announce "Potential For Life" on Mars

So why is there all this secrecy? According to scientists in communication with Aviation Week & Space Technology, the next big discovery will need to be mulled over for a while before it is announced to the world. In fact, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory science team for the MECA wet-chemistry instrument that made these undisclosed findings were kept out of the July 31st news conference (confirming water) so additional analysis could be carried out, avoiding any questions that may have revealed their preliminary results. They have also made the decision to discuss the results with the Bush Administration's Presidential Science Advisor's office before a press conference between mid-August and early September.

Although good news, Thursday's announcement of the discovery of water on Mars comes as no surprise to mission scientists and some are amused by the media's reaction to the TEGA results. "They have discovered water on Mars for the third or fourth time," one senior Mars scientist joked.


Anonymous said...

I found it interesting that the results of the analysis were not announced until nearly the end of the planned mission. At that time there was also a short blurb about the mission being extended and an additional two million dollars were made available for that extension.

Are the instruments on board really able to detect the evidence of life as opposed to just evidence of water?

As you say Mac, here we go again!
Someone notify the POPE. God's creatures have been found and the Mar's missionary mission time table needs to be stepped up and ready to go. There are heathens waiting to be be saved!


Anonymous said...

I'm going to bet that this story is, more than anything, a case of poor journalism on the part of Craig Covault, who "broke" what I think will turn out to be a non-story, originally in Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine.

This may be mostly a "blogosphere" phenomenon, as the report has already become distorted by the retelling, and subsequent misinterpretation, of it on the net in several places. Kind of a game of digital "telephone."

It was Covault who asked, at the NASA press conference, if the MECA team scientists were "hiding under the table," since they weren't part of the conference. That seems a bit of a weird thing for a serious journo to say, imho.

NASA has already said that any rumors about their finding any form of life on Mars via Phoenix are not true, and that additionally, the White House has not been briefed, despite Covault's report of same. Note also that Covault cites no sources by name. So what's the big deal?

While NASA said they will be briefing the White House _science advisor_ sometime between now and mid-September on their findings, and after further analysis of some recent MECA wet-chemistry tests aboard Phoenix, the kind of speculation made by Covault, and others, seems currently unmerited, to say the least.

Plus, since neither the Phoenix lander, nor the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover to be launched in 2009 do not, and will not, even have any biosignature detection packages on board, only instrumentation to detect and do basic analysis of components in the Martian environment to help determine potential habitability, not any form of past or present microbial life, any such speculation is completely unwarranted in the first place!

The biggest finding so far, other than confirming frozen water, which was already pretty well known from the Mars Reconaissance Orbiter (MRO) some time ago, is that the soil in the area of Mars that the Phoenix landed in is rather more Earth-like than had been previously suspected or known.

Finally, I do expect, however, for Bush to subsequently declare, once briefed by his science advisor, that we have finally won the war on Mars.

Anonymous said...

NASA announced today (Aug. 5) that the Phoenix's MECA wet-chemistry intrumentation found, steady now, perchlorates in the soil. Wow, huh? What does this mean?

They don't know exactly what kind, and while this changes, once again, the earlier preliminary findings that the Martian soil was somewhat Earth-like, and suggests that the soil on Mars may be pretty hostile to Earth-like micro-organisms (perchlorates absorb water somewhat similar to silica gels--and, certain perchlorates are also primary components of rocket fuel), NASA says this does not rule out that some kind of life might be able to exist, as some form of Martian micro-organism could possibly use perchlorates as an energy source, which is a rather optimistic spin on the newest findings.

Big whoop. Unlike, as one NASA scientist initially claimed, that Earth-based plants like asparagus (ew!) might be able to be raised in Martian soil, that now seems highly doubtful.

So, not only were the rumors that some form of life might have been found untrue, it looks like the soil iteself is not especially conducive to either micro-organisms or plants of the type we are familiar with on Earth. This could be related to the fact that Mars is a different planet.

For further confusing, contradictory, and incomplete info, see: