Evidence of Past Mars Life? Not so much

Written by The Night Sky Guy on December 3, 2012 – 4:49 pm -

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This is a view of the third (left) and fourth (right) trenches made by the 4-cm-wide scoop on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity in October 2012.credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

After nearly two weeks of the blogosphere and media in general wildly speculating as to what the NASA Mars rover announcement will be, the day finally arrived. This morning the lead NASA researchers involved in analyzing the soil samples scooped up by the rover’s robotic arm held a press conference revealing their findings.  Scientists explained that they had the rover’s suite of scientific instruments run through its first soil samples of the mission by heating the soil in a tiny on-board oven, and sniffing out the various trace gases released.

Most of the rumors surrounded the idea that complex organic compounds had been detected, but that is not the case.  What they did tentatively find are traces of perchlorate – an oxygen and chlorine based molecules that has also been found in the soil by the late Pheonix lander in the high north arctic region of the Red Planet a few years back. Further heating, NASA says, formed reactions with carbon, produced methane -based compounds.  This has left scientists stumped.  NASA is not sure where the carbon comes from – Earth contamination maybe? Further analysis will tell the story.

While many are disappointment that no proof of Martian life materialized, the mission team members are stoked because now they  know their science instruments are working like a charm. Only four months into a 2 year mission, the best is yet to come and I think lots of exciting results are in store in the coming months. But as one of the Mars scientists pointed out  – patience is part of the process.

“We’re doing science at the speed of science in a world that goes at the speed of Instagrams.” said Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger of Caltech in Pasadena.

Read all the details and check out more photos released to today at the press conference on NASA website.


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