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Friday, June 27, 2008

Asparagus Can Grow on Mars?

Source: Yahoo!

Martian soil good enough for asparagus: NASA

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Martian dirt is apparently good enough for asparagus to grow in, NASA scientists said Thursday, as they announced the results of a soil analysis collected by the US Phoenix Mars lander.

"There is nothing about the soil that would preclude life. In fact it seems very friendly," said Samuel Kounaves, the project's lead chemist at the University of Arizona in a telephone press conference.

"The soil you have there is the type of soil you have in your backyard," said Kounaves. "You may be able to grow asparagus very well."

The analysis is based on a cubic centimeter of soil scooped up by the lander's robotic arm and introduced into one of its eight ovens, where it was gradually heated up to 1,000 degrees Celsius.

Kounaves said his team was "flabbergasted" at the results that came back.

"We basically have found what appears to be the requirements of the nutrients to support life, past, present or future," said Kounaves.

Scientists found elements in the soil that included magnesium, potassium and sodium. "There are probably other mineral species, we are still working on data," he said.

Kounaves said the analysis results are "one more piece of evidence that there were liquid water action at some point in the history of Mars."

"It's very similar to the soil analysis results we got from some dried places on Earth -- this is the very exciting part," Kounaves said.

The sample is from the surface soil that scientists say covers a layer of ice.

On June 20 NASA scientists announced that the Phoenix Mars lander confirmed a long-held belief that ice is hiding under the surface in the Red Planet's northern region.

The lander's robotic arm started digging trenches into Martian soil after touching down near the planet's north pole on May 25, revealing a white substance that scientists had said was ice.

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