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What does the White House know about life on Mars that you don't?

Is NASA telling the White House something about life on Mars that it hasn't told anyone else?

That's what Aviation Week reported on Friday. Citing unnamed sources, the site said that NASA had briefed the White House Science Adviser on new findings about the habitability of Mars based on data from the space agency's Phoenix Mars Lander. The rumor was picked up by LiveScience.com, which connected it to results that are supposedly under review for publication at the journal Science.

NASA announced last week that Phoenix had once and for all confirmed the presence of water on Mars. The rumored findings relate to the vehicle's MECA wet chemistry experiment (left), for adding liquid water to soil samples to identify trace chemicals.

That experiment is not designed to detect life. Instead it can identify trace minerals and salts that might support life.

Kristin Scuderi, a spokesperson for the Science Adviser at the Office and Science and Technology Policy, told SciAm.com that no White House briefing took place, but that something "may be forthcoming" from NASA soon.

"I believe they may have some plans to brief us" on something, she said, adding that she contacted the space agency after the Aviation Week story was published.

A spokesperson for Science's publisher, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said she had no information on a possible manuscript based on results from Phoenix.

The agency reported in May that MECA results indicated that Martian soil was alkaline with traces of sodium, potassium, magnesium and chloride—all conducive to Earthly life—but that results were still out on other key ingredients such as nitrogen and sulfates.

Know anything we don't? Leave a comment and we'll chase this down.

Image credit: MECA Team/JPL

 

 

 

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