After gloriously landing on the red planet, the Phoenix lander has been able to not only analyze the small scoop of Martian soil within “its lab,” but also determine its fertility towards life.
(Space.com) After performing the first wet chemistry experiment ever done on another planet, Phoenix discovered that a sample it dug of Martian dirt contained several soluble minerals, including potassium, magnesium and chloride. Though the data is preliminary, the results are very exciting, scientists said.
“We basically have found what appears to be the requirements for nutrients to support life,” said Phoenix’s wet chemistry lab lead, Sam Kounaves of Tufts University. “This is the type of soil you’d probably have in your backyard. You might be able to grow asparagus pretty well, but probably not strawberries.”
Asparagus, which thrives in alkaline soil, would like the Martian dirt, which Phoenix measured to have a very alkaline pH of between eight to nine. Strawberries, meanwhile, like acidic soil, he said.
This analysis lays to rest one of the greatest fears about Martian soil, which many scientists had assumed to be fairly toxic towards Earthen life (or rather a few life forms at least).
While it is doubtful that Phoenix will be able to find anything alive on that crimson world (due to the radiation bombarding the surface), scientists may be able to figure out which plants would be able to survive upon Mars.
Although future colonists would probably still have to import fertilizer from Earth, they may be able to grow small gardens full of asparagus (note: and hopefully tomatoes, a favorite food of this author).