Perchlorates are reactive chemicals first detected in arctic Martian soil by NASA's Phoenix lander that plopped down on Mars over five years ago in May 2008.
It is likely both of NASA's Viking Mars landers in 1976 measured signatures of perchlorates, in the form of chlorinated hydrocarbons. Other U.S. Mars robots — the Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity — detected elemental chlorine. Moreover, orbital measurements taken by the Mars Odyssey spacecraft show that chlorine is globally distributed.
Smith said microbes on Earth use perchlorate for an energy source. They actually live off highly oxidized chlorine, and in reducing the chlorine down to chloride, they use the energy in that transaction to power themselves. In fact, when there's too much perchlorate in drinking water, microbes are used to clean it up, he said.
Furthermore, seasonal flow features seen on Mars may be caused by high concentrations of the brines of perchlorate, which has a strong attraction to water and can drastically lower its freezing point, Smith told SPACE.com.
The high levels of perchlorate found on Mars would be toxic to humans, Smith said.