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Mars soil gives hints of green planet

Mars Pathfinder snapped this photograph of its distant home.
Mars Pathfinder snapped this photograph of its distant home.  

By Richard Stenger

(CNN) -- A reexamination of data from a 1997 mission to Mars suggests that the surface contains chlorophyll, a discovery that could bolster prospects of finding life on the planet.

Chlorophyll, the molecule that plants and algae use to convert sunlight into food, gives all photosynthetic organisms on our planet their distinguishing green color.

A NASA team plans to share their preliminary findings early next week during an international conference of astrobiologists, or scientists who study the possibility of life beyond Earth.

The researchers, Carole Stoker and Pascal Ashwanden, both work at NASA's Ames Research Center in California, which is hosting the Second Astrobiology Science Conference from April 7 to April 11.

An online abstract of their presentation, titled "Search for Spectral Signatures of Life at the Pathfinder Landing Site," summarizes their report.

The pair performed a spectral analysis of Pathfinder photographs to identify chemicals in the vicinity of the NASA probe, which landed in the Ares Vallis region of Mars in July 1997.

The study turned up six potential chlorophyll hot spots. "Two intriguing cases occur in small areas on the ground near the spacecraft," the report summary added.


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