Posted by: Lister | July 3, 2008

Martian soil ‘good enough for asparagus’

I saw this story in the actual newspaper — the paper paper, made of paper. They still exist. Rather than cut it out and put it in a scrap book….

The Independent:

Scientists in charge of analysing soil lifted from the surface of the planet by the Nasa space probe Phoenix have admitted to being “flabbergasted? by initial results, which suggest it would theoretically be just about perfect for certain vegetables that thrive in mildly alkaline conditions.

The tiny sample of soil – one cubic-centimetre – was lifted from the planet’s surface with a robotic arm. It was then mixed with water on board the lander to create a kind of Martian mud suitable for chemical analysis.

[…] The pH level of the sample was somewhere between 8 and 9, with 7 considered neutral. This would seem perfect for growing asparagus and other vegetables, such as green beans, that do not do well with acidity. This does not mean that dropping seeds now would produce a vegetable patch, given everything else about the planet’s environment, including, of course, the lack of water.

Even the water question has been the subject of excitement since Phoenix began its work. In an earlier experiment, soil was heated on board the lander to 1,800F, which resulted in the release of water vapour. This suggests that this part of the planet at least was in contact with water at some point, although nobody can say when that was or the volume of water involved.


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