NASA held a press conference Monday, Dec. 3 to give updates about the Mars Curiosity rover.

The conference began at noon, Eastern Time, at the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco as part of the association's fall meeting.

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The news conference was an update about the first use of the Mars Curiosity rover's "full array of analytical instruments to investigate a drift of sandy soil," according to a written statement from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

NASA officials announced during the conference that the Curiosity rover had found evidence of organic compounds on Mars.

They added that it must now be determined whether the compounds, which contained "water and sulfur and chlorine-containing substances," according to a NASA press release, are indigenous to Mars. There is a possibility that the organics could have come to Mars from Earth aboard the rover. There is also a chance that they could be materials that had fallen to Mars from space.

The rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument is capable of detecting organic compounds in soil. Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger's recent comments in an NPR interview that the instrument had collected data "for the history books" sparked speculation that organics had been found on Mars, but NASA downplayed the findings in a mission update on Nov. 29.

"Rumors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect," officials at NASA's JPL wrote.

At Monday's conference, Grotzinger stressed that the public must have patience where findings are concerned, noting the challenge that NASA faces "...doing science at the speed of science in a world that goes at the speed of Instagrams."

Story continues below.

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  • NASA Mars Announcement Photo

  • NASA Mars Announcement Photo

    The samples Curiosity is looking at.

  • Mars Nasa Announcement Photo From Curiosity

  • Mars Curiosity Graph

  • Mars Curiosity Graph

  • Mars Curiosity Graph On Gases Released From Rocks

  • Mars Curiosity Graph Deuterium to Hydrogen Ratios

  • Mars Curiosity Graph Oxygen And Sulfer Compounds From Rocknest Samples

  • Mars Curiosity Graph on Chlorinated Compounds

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Time's take:

http://science.time.com/2012/12/03/martian-life-not-learning-from-a-false-alarm/

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Discovery of water and organics on Mercury showed that "essential building blocks" more prevalent in solar system than previously thought.

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Slate (11/28) in defense of Grotzinger's "historic" comment to NPR:

"What Grotzinger was actually trying to convey is that Curiosity’s data over her entire two-year mission will further our knowledge of Mars more than ever before, making it a historical mission."

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"We're doing science at the speed of science in a world that goes at the speed of Instagrams."

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"We have a globally representative material that we have analyzed..with all the instruments...these comprehensive investigations are going to be the basis on which we make major discoveries...but we're going to have to be patient."

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"You have to be careful about what you say and even more careful about how you say it." I was "Misunderstood."

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mars curiosity rocknest

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From NASA release:

"SAM tentatively identified the oxygen and chlorine compound perchlorate. This is a reactive chemical previously found in arctic Martian soil by NASA's Phoenix Lander. Reactions with other chemicals heated in SAM formed chlorinated methane compounds -- one-carbon organics that were detected by the instrument. The chlorine is of Martian origin, but it is possible the carbon may be of Earth origin,

carried by Curiosity and detected by SAM's high sensitivity design."

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Grotzinger needs to be careful when he refers to chemical isotopes as "species." People are bound to mishear and speculate.

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Perchlorate previously found in Mars polar regions by Phoenix lander in 2010.

From Discovery article from that finding:

"Perchlorate is a highly oxidized chlorate and is commonly used as a powerful rocket fuel. Perchlorate is so rich in oxygen it could also fuel Martian metabolisms. It is also a strong antifreeze that could be

used by alien microorganism to combat low temperatures on Mars."

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Grotzinger compares Curiosity to a car with a 10,000-page user

manual that must be written as it goes.

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mars curiosity graph 6

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mars curiosity graph 3

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mars curiosity graph 2

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Grotzinger: There won't be a "hallelujah" moment.

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mars curiosity graph

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SAM instrument so complex that it is essentially its own mission: Grotzinger.

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Determining whether these organics are biological in nature is "well down the road," says Grotzinger.

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mars curiosity photo 3

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mars curiosity photo

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-John Grotzinger, who two weeks ago said that Curiosity had a finding that was "one for the history books"

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Organics are 'clearly there', but need to be cautious to make sure these organics are A) definitely from Mars and not introduced by Curiosity and B) not just part of inorganic compounds. -Paul Mahaffy

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