[FPSPACE] Another article about upcoming Curiosity announcement--it may have to do with detecting organic chemical molecules

Peter Pesavento pjp961 at svol.net
Tue Nov 20 18:51:34 EST 2012


Universe Today via IO9.com

 

http://io9.com/5962240/scientists-claim-to-have-discovered-something-earthsh
aking-on-mars

 


Scientists claim to have discovered something "earthshaking" on Mars


Nancy Atkinson - Universe Today 

The Mars Science Laboratory team has hinted that they might have some big
news to share soon. But like good scientists, they are waiting until they
verify their results before saying anything definitive. In an interview
<http://www.npr.org/2012/11/20/165513016/big-news-from-mars-rover-scientists
-mum-for-now>  on NPR today, MSL Principal Investigator John Grotzinger said
a recent soil sample test in the SAM instrument (Sample Analysis at Mars)
shows something "earthshaking."

"This data is gonna be one for the history books," he said. "It's looking
really good."
What could it be?

SAM <http://ssed.gsfc.nasa.gov/sam/samiam.html>  is designed to investigate
the chemical and isotopic composition of the Martian atmosphere and soil. In
particular, SAM is looking for organic molecules, which is important in the
search for life on Mars. Life as we know it cannot exist without organic
molecules; however they can exist without life. SAM will be able to detect
lower concentrations of a wider variety of organic molecules than any other
instrument yet sent to Mars.

As many scientists have said, both the presence and the absence of organic
molecules would be important science results, as both would provide
important information about the environmental conditions of Gale Crater on
Mars.

But something 'Earthshaking' or "really good" probably wouldn't be a nil
result.

Already, the team has found evidence for huge amounts of flowing water in
Gale Crater.

If SAM does find organic material, the next step would be to determine the
origin and the nature of preservation of the molecules. But the team is
going to wait until they verify whatever it is they found.

As NPR's Joe Palca says in his report, "They have some exciting new results
from one of the rover's instruments. On the one hand, they'd like to tell
everybody what they found, but on the other, they have to wait because they
want to make sure their results are not just some fluke or error in their
instrument."

The team is being cautious because of their experience with looking for
methane in the Martian air. When one of the SAM instruments analyzed an air
sample, they got a reading of methane. But, it turned out, they were likely
measuring some of the air that was brought along from Florida, as air leaked
into the Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS) while the spacecraft was awaiting
launch. The initial readings from the TLS, full of methane, were very
exciting to the Curiosity scientists until they realized it was from Earth.

But NPR reports that Grotzinger says it will take several weeks before he
and his team are ready to talk about their latest finding.

In the meantime there will likely be much speculation as everyone is excited
about the prospects of life - past or present - on Mars. Either would have
astounding implications.

 

 

 

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