Astronauts could boldly grow when they get to Mars because the soil may be ideal for planting crops, the Phoenix lander has discovered. Scientists say the martian dirt is capable of supporting life and remarkably like that found in a back garden or allotment on Earth.
The discovery comes just days after a NASA photo confirmed the discovery of water just beneath the surface at their probe’s landing site near the martian north pole.
Green-fingered spacemen would find it easy to grow plants such as asparagus on the Red Planet and the news must be a boost for plans to establish an Earth colony.
It is also gives new hope that life might once have existed on Mars and even still be there in the form of simple microbes.
The discovery follows the first detailed analysis of soil that was scooped up by Phoenix’s robot arm. Scientists said the soil was far more alkaline than they expected and the wealth of information gathered was like winning the lottery.
Sam Kounaves, lead investigator for the wet chemistry laboratory on Phoenix, said: “We basically have found what appears to be the requirements, the nutrients, to support life whether past present or future.”
“It is the type of soil you would probably have in your back yard. You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well. It is very exciting for us.
“There is nothing about the soil that would preclude life. In fact, it seems very friendly. There is nothing about it that is toxic.”
Michael Hecht, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: “We are awash in chemistry data. We’re trying to understand what is the chemistry of wet soil on Mars, what’s dissolved in it, how acidic or alkaline it is.
“With the results we received from Phoenix yesterday, we could begin to tell what aspects of the soil might support life.”
Another Phoenix instrument, used an oven to bake its first soil sample to 1,000 degrees C (1,800 degrees F) – the highest temperature ever reached in an experiment on another world.
The £210 million Phoenix probe landed on May 25 after a ten-month flight from Earth.
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