Saturday science subject: Growing asparagus on Mars

Last week, NASA announced that its Phoenix probe discovered evidence of water ice on the surface of Mars. Now, Reuters reports, the probe has found Martian soil to be more alkaline than expected, suggesting it could support life:

"We basically have found what appears to be the requirements, the nutrients, to support life whether past present or future," Sam Kounaves, the lead investigator for the wet chemistry laboratory on Phoenix, told journalists.

"It is the type of soil you would probably have in your back yard, you know, alkaline. You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well. ... It is very exciting for us."

The 1 cubic meter (35 cubic feet) of soil was taken from about 1 inch below the surface of Mars and had a pH, or alkaline, level of 8 or 9.

According to Reuters, NASA's Michael Hecht revealed in a phone conference that one of his colleagues "jumped up and down as if he had the winning lottery ticket" when he learned the pH levels. Still, Kounaves said the results are "very preliminary" and will require further analysis before NASA can determine whether Mars harbored (or harbors) life.

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