It was a breaking story that held so much promise: Phoenix uncovering something more “provocative” than discovering water in the search for the “potential for life” on Mars. Unfortunately it would seem the source for Aviation Weekly’s report was either inaccurate or overly enthusiastic (unless NASA really is covering something up, but I really doubt it). It turns out that Friday’s news was more of a pre-emptive scramble to get some incomplete science into the public domain. Phoenix had actually found perchlorate in a MECA sample and the mission scientists were trying to find supporting evidence with one of the TEGA ovens. This is was what caused the delay according to NASA; Phoenix HQ did not want to make a public announcement about this potentially toxic substance until they had corroborative data from a second experiment. Sensible really. However, in the aftermath of the weekend’s frenzy that glittered with conspiracy theories and excitement, Phoenix scientists have vented their frustration at having to disclose incomplete science in an announcement forced by a misunderstanding, rumours and allegations of cover-ups…
“We want to set the record straight… we’re not with-holding anything,” NASA spokesman Dwayne Brown stated in today’s special press conference. This was in response to an unnamed source that provided information about an alleged discovery that NASA deemed too critical to release to the masses and opted for a trip to the White House instead. Well, this seems like a possible scenario, especially when being reported in a reputable news source. But the article certainly didn’t live up to its promise.
Aviation Week issued another article on Monday standing by Friday’s story stating, “AviationWeek.com reported Aug. 1 and Aviation Week & Space Technology reports today that the new information involves the “potential for life” on Mars. That potential can either be positive or negative, and the new data indicate the new soil tests are at best inconclusive, according to the information being released on the soil chemistry experiment.” It also says, “NASA disputes that any of the information was provided to the White House in advance. But such data are routinely passed between NASA and White House science staff when briefings are planned…”
So, from what I can understand from this is that this “provocative” discovery may have been either positive or negative for the “potential for life” on Mars. Also, NASA regularly updates the White House as a matter of routine. Ahhhh, now I get it, Aviation Week had a source who said: Yep, Phoenix is doing some experiments on Mars, probably found something provocative, but I can’t tell you what it is, but it may influence the Martian potential for life. Although NASA does this all the time anyway, the President’s Advisor has been informed of some new stuff they’ve just found. Sounds like a no-news day turned into big-news day with a little bit of flamboyant writing! I’ll be the first to admit, I was fooled into thinking a big announcement was on the horizon (well, a bigger announcement than the half-discovery of perchlorate)…
I’m just relieved AW clearly stated in the original article, “Phoenix scientists have said from the start that neither the TEGA organic chemistry lab nor the MECA wet chemistry system could detect current or past life,” so I have no clue who thought this under-cover mystery indicated the discovery of life on Mars.
So the upshot is, Phoenix data suggests a toxic chemical called perchlorate may exist in the regolith. Some scientists believe this will hinder life on the planet, others think it might provide energy for primitive life forms. Either way, Phoenix has just unlocked another part of the Martian puzzle and it will take a while before scientists understand what it means for the “potential for life” question.
Note: Approach articles using “unnamed sources” with caution…
Unless NASA is hiding something…
4 thoughts on “Confirmed! The “Phoenix Affair” Was a Storm in a Teacup”
I could care less about the controversy of who said what when. What I’d like to know is HOW the perchlorate got there… Most of the references about perchlorates I’ve read refer to electrolytics or electrochemical processes. That in and of itself makes it a bit interesting (very tentatively).
Granted one source also listed thermal decomposition of chlorates and/or chemical oxidation as possible sources of perchlorate.
So, the question is: by which method, the percholates? I probably shouldn’t mention it, as it’s controversial in the extreme, but the Electric Universe theory posits that Mars was subjected in not-too-distant history to interplanetary discharges. One wonders (extremely lightly) whether percholates might be created in just such an anode cathode relationship. Wal Thornhill has suggested that Mars was “caught in the middle” of a Velikovskian interplanetary discharge acting as an intermediary between Earth, Venus and Saturn (one of his more “out there” notions, though not entirely without merit, considering it appears the northern hemisphere of Mars [where Phoenix currently rests, I believe] has been excavated to considerable depth by “something”; the mainstream implicates “impact,” but features consistent with impact don’t seem to be present).
Barring the “out there” notion above, I’d be interested in thoughts on how the percholates in the Martian soil may have formed…