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[i]The White House has been alerted by NASA about plans to make an announcement soon on major new Phoenix lander discoveries concerning the "potential for life" on Mars, scientists tell Aviation Week & Space Technology.
Sources say the new data do not indicate the discovery of existing or past life on Mars. Rather the data relate to habitability--the "potential" for Mars to support life--at the Phoenix arctic landing site, sources say.
The data are much more complex than results related NASA's July 31 announcement that Phoenix has confirmed the presence of water ice at the site.
International news media trumpeted the water ice confirmation, which was not a surprise to any of the Phoenix researchers. "They have discovered water on Mars for the third or fourth time," one senior Mars scientists joked about the hubbub around the water ice announcement.
The other data not discussed openly yet are far more "provocative," Phoenix officials say.
The Bush Administration's Presidential Science Advisor's office, however, has been briefed on the new information that NASA hopes to release as early as mid August. It is possible an announcement would not come until September, to allow for additional analysis. That will depend upon the latest results still being analyzed from the spacecraft's organic oven and soil chemistry laboratories.
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.
MECA's two microscopes do, however, have the resolution to detect bacteria--which would be life. Sources, however, say the microscopes have not detected bacteria.
The MECA instrument, in its first of four wet chemistry runs a month ago, found soil chemistry that is "Earth-like" and capable of supporting life, researchers said then.
It is intriguing that MECA could have found anything more positive than that, but NASA and the University of Arizona are taking steps to prevent word from leaking out on the nature of the discovery made during MECA's second soil test, in which water from Earth was automatically stirred with Martian soil.[/i]
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