Some of the data beamed back by Phoenix after its first night on Mars.
Photo by NASA
NASA researchers and scientists have been looking for evidence that Mars could have supported life in the past or that it could be habitable in the future, but they want to dispel any online rumors: They have not found life on the Red Planet.
The Phoenix Mars Lander has been analyzing soil samples from Mars, and NASA's support team for the mission is interested in finding evidence of whether Mars has or ever could support life. Some samples have shown that the Red Planet has some indications -- like evidence of water, ice, and nutrients -- it could support life. However, NASA has not announced or implied that it has discovered life on Mars.
The Phoenix mission has gained a following. Media reports late last week stated that NASA had briefed the White House about finding life on Mars, while attempting to hide that information from the public. The rumors of Martian life and a White House conspiracy caused enough of a distraction that the space agency decided to hold a news conference Tuesday to dispel them.
Nevertheless, the findings have been interesting enough for NASA to extend the mission from its original 90-day schedule, which would have concluded at the end of August, to continue for an additional five weeks.
During the news conference Thursday, NASA employees cautioned that they are in the early stages of examining several findings (including the possible discovery of perchlorate) and all of the information must be tested and verified.
"We decided to show the public science in action because of the extreme interest in the Phoenix mission, which is searching for a habitable environment on the northern plains of Mars," said Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson. "Right now, we don't know whether finding perchlorate is good news or bad news for possible life on Mars."