Daily Archives: June 5th, 2008

Phoenix digs Mars for real and “Hairy Blobs”?

With two test digs under its belt, NASA’s Phoenix lander is now ready to do some real science.

The spacecraft might take its first sample of Martian soil for analysis on Thursday from a site dubbed “Baby Bear” (scroll down for image). The sample was supposed to be taken on Wednesday, but NASA said that NASA’s Odyssey orbiter, which relays Phoenix data to and from Earth, had entered a “safe mode,” preventing Wednesday’s instructions from reaching the lander.

Phoenix scientists are excited for the soil collection to begin. “We’re ready to start interacting with the surface,” said chief scientist Peter Smith of the University of Arizona. “This is where it’s absolutely making me so happy.”

Finally, a real dig. What will it reveal? Maybe something like this. Drum roll please…..

At last, scientists have discovered a form of life that could have evolved on Mars. Geologists unearthed a treasure trove of fossilized remains in a salty, acidic lake in remote Australia — the creatures, probably about 250 million years old, were, according to New Scientist, “made up of a mix of inorganic crystals and ‘hairs’ stuck together in a mass” (pictured). The lake where they lived was filled with water whose extreme levels of salinity and acidity are a near-match for Martian water. Find out more, plus see more cool pictures of the blobs, below.

According to New Scientist:

Kathleen Benison, a geologist at Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, led a team that studied the sediments formed by acidic and very salty lakes in modern day Western Australia, and those deposited around 250 million years ago in North Dakota. It is very difficult to survive in such a tough environments and few signs of life have ever been found in these sorts of lakes.

Inside the halite and gypsum “evaporate” minerals, which form as the lake waters dry up, Benison and colleagues found previously unknown fossilised blobs at both the modern and ancient sites, ranging in size from 0.05 to 1.5 millimetres. They were made up of a mix of inorganic crystals and “hairs” stuck together in a mass (pictured). They named them hairy blobs.

The team argues that each hair was in fact a separate microorganism because the hair fossils are made of disordered graphite which, unlike inorganic graphite, has irregular layers that suggest it was once a live organism..

Many of the hairs are coated with crystals of gypsum, a calcium sulphate mineral. This link with gypsum suggests that the microorganisms were fuelled by chemical interactions with sulphur in the acidic water – which helped the gypsum to form.

Being my cynical, ornery, doubting Thomas self however, I’m not holding my breath for the simple fact that we’ve been disappointed so many times before.

But when you shoot craps, sometimes you do come up with a seven or eleven!

Phoenix Mars lander set for first science dig

“Hairy Blobs” Discovered in Acidic Lake Could’ve Evolved on Mars