The Mars Science Laboratory certainly knows how to generate publicity. Earlier this week, principal investigator John Grotzinger teased that a recent soil sample test from the Curiosity rover shows something "earth-shaking." "This data is gonna be one for the history books," said Grotzinger, also a professor at the California Institute of Technology and a celebrated paleontologist. "It's looking really good."
While the findings won't be verified and released for several weeks, we can make an educated guess as to what the soil sample, which was taken by Curiosity's SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) instrument, has shown. The SAM was designed specifically to investigate the composition of the Martian soil and atmosphere and look for organic molecules, an important element in the search for life on the Red Planet. While a confirmation of the presence or absense of organic molecules on Mars would be something to celebrate, according to many scientists, it's assumed that Grotzinger wouldn't have teased a nil result and that the Science Laboratory has, in fact, made a discovery.
Why is that so earth-shaking? "Life as we know it cannot exist without organic molecules; however, they can exist wthout life" explained Nancy Atkinson, a senior editor at Universe Today and host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast. "SAM will be able to detect lower concentrations of a wider variety of organic molecules than any other instrument yet sent to Mars." So while the Science Laboratory has not yet discovered life, past or present, they may have discovered the necessary elements.
Via Universe Today