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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"Earthshaking" Mars news "for the history books" or dampened expectations?

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has delivered the first Martian dirt sample to its onboard chemistry laboratory, testing out gear that forms the scientific heart of the $2.5 billion robot with planetary scientists and the public now awaiting the results that is 'gonna make the history books."
 
A recent soil sample taken by Curiosity is yielding some very exciting results that NASA Curiousity scientists  are remaining very tight-lipped about. In an interview with NPR's Joe Palca, Principal Investigator for the rover mission John Grotzinger said that a recent soil sample test in the SAM instrument (Sample Analysis at Mars) revealed something "earthshaking." "This data is gonna be one for the history books," he said. "It's looking really good."
 
Gale Crater NASA/JPL
 SAM can detect organic compounds — the carbon-containing building blocks of life as we know it — and is thus key to Curiosity's mission, which seeks to determine if Mars has ever been capable of supporting microbial life. Unfortunately, the world will need to wait at least a few more weeks to find out what that discovery was while NASA runs additional tests. NASA JPL has subsequently sought to dampen expectations saying, "It won't be earthshaking, but it will be interesting."
 
Star Trekking
Nancy Atkinson, writing for Universe Today and io9, and Pop Sci's Rebecca Boyle both speculate the discovery could be linked to the evidence of flowing water previously existing in the Gale Crater. Rich Apodaca thinks Curiosity discovered small organic chemicals. Whatever the history-making news may be from Mars in December, those interested in astrobiology will either be very excited or very disappointed.
 

NASA plans to announce the news at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which takes place December 3 to 7 in San Francisco.

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