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The Sciences

Mars, life, the White House, and rumors

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitAugust 5, 2008 3:00 AM

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By now you've probably heard of the rumor that the Phoenix lander found something so significant on Mars that the White House was briefed about it, and that people are speculating that this means there were once conditions for life on Mars, or even that life's by-products were detected. Yeah, well, you know how I feel about Mars and rumors (or any space-based rumors in general). This one smells like baloney to me. And whaddyaknow, Emily has more details. She even has some science. Based on evidence and everything! OK, snark mode off. Basically, one instrument on Phoenix found a chemical that precludes organic life from having existed on Mars, while another instrument found no trace of that chemical in its samples. This is interesting, even surprising, but the main point is it isn't clear. We can't say one way or another. It seems to me that if the data aren't clear, then a White House briefing was unwarranted, and therefore unlikely to have occurred. I may be wrong, but the evidence points that way. NASA will be having a press briefing on this at 2:00 p.m. EDT tomorrow (Tuesday), and Emily will be covering it. We'll learn more then.

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