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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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.
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Discovery of water and organics on Mercury showed that "essential building blocks" more prevalent in solar system than previously thought.
I think it's good to know that scientists are so bad at hiding their awesome enthusiasm. It makes cover-ups unlikely.— SarcasticRover (@SarcasticRover) December 3, 2012
"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."
"We're doing science at the speed of science in a world that goes at the speed of Instagrams."
"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."
"You have to be careful about what you say and even more careful about how you say it." I was "Misunderstood."
So if there is *any* carbon compound detedted by SAM, either that or some other carbon compound was present in soil to begin with.— Emily Lakdawalla (@elakdawalla) December 3, 2012
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."
Grotzinger needs to be careful when he refers to chemical isotopes as "species." People are bound to mishear and speculate.
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."
manual that must be written as it goes.
Grotzinger: There won't be a "hallelujah" moment.
#Curiosity's "histroic moment" is that they got a good soil sample that holds up to repeat analysis. Historic for the team, but no-one else.— Iain Thomson (@iainthomson) December 3, 2012
SAM instrument so complex that it is essentially its own mission: Grotzinger.
Determining whether these organics are biological in nature is "well down the road," says Grotzinger.
-John Grotzinger, who two weeks ago said that Curiosity had a finding that was "one for the history books"
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