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Toxin in soil may mean no life on Mars

From CNN.com --

From Miles O'Brien and Kate Tobin
(CNN) -- NASA's Phoenix lander has discovered a toxic chemical in soil near Mars' north pole, dimming hopes for finding life on the Red Planet, the probe's operators said Monday.
The Phoenix lander's inverted scoop prepares to take soil samples on Mars in this undated image. 

The chemical, perchlorate, is an oxidant widely used in solid rocket fuel. Researchers are still puzzling over the results and checking to make sure the perchlorate wasn't carried to Mars from Earth, the University of Arizona-based science team said.

"While we have not completed our process on these soil samples, we have very interesting intermediate results," Peter Smith, the principal investigator for the project, said in a written statement.

Early readings from a device aboard Phoenix called the Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer, or MECA, "suggested Earth-like soil," Smith said.

"Further analysis has revealed un-Earthlike aspects of the soil chemistry," he said.

The Phoenix team has scheduled a teleconference for Tuesday to discuss the findings.

"Oxidizing" soil conditions also were found at the Viking 1 and 2 landing sites in the 1970s, leading most scientists to conclude that there could be no life there.

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