Veggies like asparagus can grow on Mars

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Washington, June 27 : NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander's preliminary results have indicated that the soil near the North Pole of the Red Planet is surprisingly earthlike, which is ripe for growing vegetables like asparagus.

Previous data from the two rovers exploring Mars's equatorial zones had suggested that the geochemistry on the red planet might have been too acidic to support most forms of Earth-type life.

But, according to a report in National Geographic News, as little as an inch (2.5 centimeters) beneath the surface, dirt from Mars's arctic plains proved to be very similar to alkaline soils on Earth, with a pH between 8 and 9, as estimated by the Phoenix.The finding is good news in the hunt for signs that Mars was or could now be habitable.

"This means there is a broader range of organisms that can grow (in it)," said Samuel Kounaves, a chemistry professor at Tufts University, who works with the lander's Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA).

"You might be able to grow asparagus in it, but strawberries, probably not very well," he added.

The MECA team also found that the soil contains magnesium, sodium, potassium, and chloride.

Meanwhile, scientists have also announced the first results from the craft's Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer (TEGA).

This instrument bakes soil samples to temperatures as high as 1,800°F (1,000°C) and "sniffs" the gases they release.

The team reports that heat caused the sample to emit water vapor, indicating that the soil has water-containing minerals.

"This is what we were hoping to see," said TEGA leader William Boynton of the University of Arizona. "The soil sample clearly has interacted with water in the past," he added.

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