Author Topic: Mars Rover Makes Discovery For "the History Books" (of Tomorrow)  (Read 929 times)

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Offline PPI Brian

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Curiosity is living up to its name. The NASA rover currently wheeling itself around Mars has apparently sent back some very interesting data from the Red Planet in the form of a soil sample that shows ... well, something. From the sounds of it, something big. But for now at least, that's all anyone is willing to say.

Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena are keeping their lips sealed for the time being while they run additional tests to make sure the discovery holds up. That, however, hasn't stopped one of the mission's leaders from speculating loudly that it'll be one that rewrites at least some of what we know about the universe.

"This data is gonna be one for the history books," John Grotzinger, the rover mission's principal investigator, told NPR last week for a the buzz-inciting segment that aired today. "It's looking really good."

What we do know is that the data comes from a soil sample analyzed by the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, an on-board lab known as SAM, so if the data holds up to further testing it appears possible, and perhaps likely, that it is a discovery of an element on Mars previously thought not to be exist on the Red Planet.

Of course, the reason that NASA is keeping the potential find (mostly) under wraps is because it may turn out to be nothing but a false alarm, something that's happened before to the mission. NPR explains:

So why doesn't Grotzinger want to share his exciting news? The main reason is caution. Grotzinger and his team were almost stung once before. When SAM analyzed an air sample, it looked like there was methane in it, and at least here on Earth, some methane comes from living organisms. But Grotzinger says they held up announcing the finding because they wanted to be sure they were measuring Martian air, and not air brought along from the rover's launchpad at Cape Canaveral.
"We knew from the very beginning that we had this risk of having brought air from Florida. And we needed to diminish it and then make the measurement again," he says. And when they made the measurement again, the signs of methane disappeared.
But the simple fact Grotzinger is willing to talk so openly (and excitedly) about the possible discovery in light of the past let downs would seem to suggest he has a good deal of confidence that it will hold up to further testing.

No word on exactly how long it will take before we learn more, but Grotzinger told NPR that it will likely take "several weeks" before he and his team are ready to go public. Until then, feel free to take to the comments with your best (or worst) guesses.



http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2012/11/20/mars_discovery_nasa_touts_curiosity_data_that_points_to_historic_discovery.html
« Last Edit: November 20, 2012, 03:40:37 PM by PPI Brian »
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."--Carl Sagan

Offline PPI Jason

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My guess...Martian Dinosaur poop.

Now, don't take this as me saying that Curiosity is a billion dollar pooper scooper. But that's my guess.  :)
Probably the earliest flyswatters were nothing more than some sort of striking surface attached to the end of a long stick.
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Offline PPI Tim

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I think the Rover discovered a half buried Statue of Liberty ;D
Sounds interesting...Go on.

Offline PPI Karl

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I think the Rover discovered a half buried Statue of Liberty ;D

--"Get your hands off of me, you damned, dirty Martian!" 

I'm skeptical of the hype, b/c I've been burned so many times in the past by those NASA press conferences alleging "important announcements".  You wait beside your computer for hours for the live feed, only to find out that NASA is pleased to have verified some piece of equipment is working properly.  I'm hopeful, though, that it's about finding liquid water.

They just announced find huge caches of frozen water at the poles on Mercury, of all places, with potential for organic compounds on the temperate margins!  Wonders never cease, so,who knows, maybe something Mars-shattering will be announced.
If you want to end your misery, start enjoying it, because there's nothing the universe begrudges more than our enjoyment.

Offline PPI Tim

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I think they will announce that have discovered a Walmart and a Starbucks on Mars.....and that there will be soon a Popeye's Chicken and a Dollar tree.  ;D
Sounds interesting...Go on.

Offline PPI Brian

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"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."--Carl Sagan

Offline PPI Brian

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Well, they didn't find Jimmy Hoffa. But they did find something interesting. Hardly "earth shattering" news, but interesting.

Curiosity Rover Finds Organic Signal on Mars, But Not Definitive: NASA
by SPACE.com Staff
Date: 03 December 2012 Time: 12:00 PM ET

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has discovered complex chemistry on the Red Planet, as well as hints of long-sought organic compounds that could aid primitive life, scientists announced today (Dec. 3).

The Curiosity rover found evidence of chlorine, sulfur and water in Mars dirt studied by its onboard laboratory, as well as organic compounds (chemicals containing carbon) inside its Sample Analysis at Mars instrument. However, the science team can't yet be sure whether these compounds truly come from Mars, or arise from contamination transported to the Red Planet onboard Curiosity.

"SAM has no definitive detection to report of organic compounds," Paul Mahaffy, SAM principal investigator at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said during a press conference at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

"Even though [Mahaffy's] instrument detected organic compounds, first of all we have to determine whether they're indigenous to Mars," said John Grotzinger, Curiosity's project scientist. [Organic Compounds On Mars - Did Curiosity Bring it? | Video]

The announcement came after recent rumors ? which NASA attempted to dampen last week ? that Curiosity had made a huge discovery on Mars.

The observation by Curiosity involved perchlorate, a reactive compound of oxygen and chlorine that had previously been found in the Martian arctic by NASA's Phoenix lander.

Curiosity's SAM instrument uses a tiny oven to cook Mars dirt samples, then study the gases they give off to determine their chemical makeup. Martian soil samples are placed in the device by a scoop on Curiosity's robotic arm.

When Curiosity cooked the perchlorate in its SAM oven, it created chlorinated methane compounds, one-carbon organic material.

"The chlorine is of Martian orgin, but it's possible the carbon may be of Earth origin, carried by Curiosity and detected by SAM's high sensitivity design," NASA officials wrote in a statement.

The new findings by Curiosity came during the rover's study of a patch of windblown Martian dust and sand called "Rocknest." It is a flat stretch of Mars terrain that is still miles away from Curiosity's first destination, rock outcrop called Glenelg at the base of the 3-mile (5 kilometers) Mount Sharp that rises from the center of the rover's landing site ? the vast Gale Crater.

While scientists puzzle out the validity of Curiosity's SAM signals, the rover's other instruments have made curious discoveries, as well, mission scientists said.
Curiosity's arm-mounted tools have confirmed that the Martian soil at the Rocknest site is similar in chemical composition and appearance to the dirt seen by NASA's three other rovers: the small Pathfinder, and golf cart-size Spirt and Opportunity rovers.

Photos from the rover's Mars hand Lens Imager, or MAHLI, revealed that the sand drifts at Rocknest have a crusty surface that hides even darker, finer sand below.
"Active drifts on Mars look darker on the surface," MAHLI principal investigator Ken Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego said in a statement."This is an older drift that has had time to be inactive, letting the crust form and dust accumulate on it."

Meanwhile, Curiosity's Chemical and Mineralogy detector, called CheMin, found that the terrain around Rocknest is a mix of volcanic and glassy, non-crystalline materials. While the rover found more evidence of water than expected, some water molecules bound to bits of sand were anticipated, scientists said.

The car-size Mars rover Curiosity landed on the Red Planet in early August. The $2.5 billion robot is the largest rover ever sent to another planet and is expected to spend at least two years exploring Gale Crater to determine if the region could have ever supported microbial life.

This story will be updated with more details from today's announcement shortly.

http://www.space.com/18741-mars-rover-curiosity-discovery.html
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."--Carl Sagan