Phoenix LanderNASA has denied media and internet speculation that the Phoenix Lander has found life on the ‘Red Planet’, Mars and has also denied that the White House in the United States has been briefed on such matters that would lead up to an announcement by NASA later this week. This comes just after NASA stated on July 31, that Phoenix confirmed the presence of water-ice on Mars.Rumors began to spread on the internet Saturday after an unnamed scientist working on the Phoenix Mission stated to Aviation Week & Space Technology, the White House had been briefed on “provocative and complex” information that NASA has yet to disclose to the public regarding the “potential for life on Mars.” The scientist said that the announcement will be regarding the habitability of Mars rather than finding actual life. The scientist also said that the information had been excluded from the July 31 press conference.

NASA immediately denied those claims sending out a message on Twitter, a social networking and micro-blogging website which is used by NASA to communicate to the public in a style pretending that the Lander itself is talking to its readers, stating, “Heard about the recent news reports implying I may have found Martian life. Those reports are incorrect. Reports claiming there was a White House briefing are also untrue and incorrect.” The Phoenix Lander, according to NASA, does not have the ability to detect life, past or present, but the Lander’s ‘MECA’ microscopy station can ‘see’ bacteria, which NASA states has not been discovered.

“[The report of a White House briefing is] not true [and is] bogus”. MECA results have not been discussed at the White House. There is no one who knows either on the [Phoenix] project in Tucson or at [NASA] HQ who knows where this information came from,” said Peter Smith, the top investigator for the Phoenix Mission. Smith also added that MECA has “nothing new to report.”

The MECA or Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer, is designed to analyze soil samples as small as 16 μm to determine the chemical composition of the sample. It is said that MECA is able to detect bacteria in the soil, but NASA states that no such discovery has been made. However, Phoenix’s MECA did detect potassium, magnesium and chloride, minerals that are necessary to create or sustain life. MECA also determined that the soil was acidic, which means it could support the growing of some plants from Earth like asparagus.

“We are attempting to assess the chemicals and minerals that make up the soil composition. We are now about half way through the process and there are several conflicting points of view. This is not a good time to go public with half the story,” added Smith who also stated that “we are committed to following a rigorous scientific process. While we have not completed our process on these soil samples, we have very interesting intermediate results. Initial MECA analyses suggested Earth-like soil. Further analysis has revealed un-Earthlike aspects of the soil chemistry.”

Despite the denials by NASA, some Internet observers maintain that NASA is still preparing for a major announcement.

“The reason that all this seems so hush-hush is due to a future paper and press release that appears likely to pop out of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and its Science magazine. Whatever the poop is from the scoop that’s been studied by Phoenix, that information is purportedly going through peer-review”, said David Leonard for LifeScience.com.

NASA will hold a media teleconference today August 5, at 2:00 p.m. EDT, to discuss these recent science activities.

Source : wikinews


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The Phoenix probe that was sent to Mars has had its mission extended. Part of Phoenix’s mission was to chemically analyze soil samples, and to confirm the presence of water ice. The ice was confirmed by the use of an instrument that can identify vapours; it was heated until it melted at 0°C (32°F), the melting point for water.

Corby Waste (JPL/NASA).

An artist’s rendition of the Phoenix Mars probe during landing.
Image: Corby Waste (JPL/NASA).

The original mission was planned to be funded for a 3 months, with the cutoff in late August. However, as a result of the probe’s good condition, NASA has stated that its stay will be extended by 5 weeks, till September 30.

“Phoenix is healthy and the projections for solar power look good, so we want to take full advantage of having this resource in one of the most interesting locations on Mars,” said the Head of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, Michael Meyers. An additional expense of US$2 million will be incurred because of the extension, on top of the US$420 million that has already been spent. This will allow for two more trenches to be dug, which will be dubbed as “Cupboard” and “Neverland”.

The Phoenix probe landed on Mars on May 25 of this year near the north pole of Mars, where the ice was discovered. The ice was found in a trench approximately 5cm deep referred to as “Snow White”. “It’s been very successful and Mars had proven itself to be very interesting, mechanically the spacecraft is operating great, and there’s plenty of power margin to carry us beyond the waning summer,” said Meyers.

The original goal of the mission was to determine if the red planet was capable of supporting life. Phoenix is in the process of performing experiments to determine if ice ever melted in Mars’ history. In addition it is searching for the organic-based compounds that are necessary for life forms to exist.

Phoenix’s principal investigator Peter Smith told the press conference that “we hope to be able to answer the question of whether this was a habitable zone on Mars. It will be for future missions to find if anyone is home on this environment.”

Source : wikinews

Gary McKinnon

Beleaguered British computer hacker Gary McKinnon has vowed to fight U.S. extradition proceedings through the European Court of Human Rights. This follows on from yesterday’s rejection of an appeal to the the U.K’s Law Lords.

American prosecutors who have pursued the case against McKinnon are offering a stark choice for the ex-systems analyst who allegedly broke into 97 US military and NASA computer systems. Some reports describe his UFO-related hacking efforts as, “the biggest military hack in history”; his lawyers have used alarmist language to describe the attitude of American prosecutors pursing him on six indictments, “American officials involved in this case have stated that they want to see him ‘fry’. The consequences he faces if extradited are both disproportionate and intolerable.” The plea-bargain offer on the table would see McKinnon face four years in jail if he accepts two of the charges. Estimates on how long a sentence he may face if he refuses this and is successfully prosecuted on all six charges go as high as 70 years. For the 1966 Glasgow-born man this is an effective life sentence.

With terrorism being bandied about as a motivation, and allegations that McKinnon deleted files and disrupted the operation of systems he is alleged to have broken into, an additional concern from his lawyers is that under such circumstances he could be detained at the Guantanamo Bay facility. McKinnon describes himself as a “bumbling hacker” who believed he was working in the public interest to expose a U.S. coverup of files and other information on UFOs