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Organics On Mars: Curiosity Rover Finds Evidence Of Organic Compounds On Red Planet

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AP

A team of scientists announced on Monday that the Mars Rover Curiosity had found evidence of organic compounds on the Red Planet.

Martian soil samples analyzed aboard the rover revealed "water and sulfur and chlorine-containing substances," the space agency said in press materials.

Scientists will now have to determine whether the compounds 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.

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Scientists made the announcement on the first day of the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, an annual conference that runs through Friday.

Speculation as to the nature of the announcement was rampant in the days leading up to the conference. John Grotzinger, the principal investigator on the Curiosity mission, recently told NPR the data from an analysis of Martian soil "is gonna be one for the history books."

But NASA last week issued a press release calling "rumors and speculation that there are major new findings" from the Curiosity mission "incorrect."

Curiosity, a 1-ton roving science laboratory, arrived on Mars in August. The 354-million-mile journey to the Red Planet took more than eight months.

This is breaking news. Check back for updates.

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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 4

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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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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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