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Curiosity may have made `historic` discovery on Mars

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - 17:03

Washington: It seems that Mars rover Curiosity has made yet another profound discovery, but mission scientists are keeping quiet for the time being.

As Curiosity continue its cutting-edge laboratory work on the surface of Mars, inside Gale Crater on a plain called Aeolis Palus, mission scientists are itching to announce a “historic” find, Discovery News reported.

“This data is gonna be one for the history books. It’s looking really good,” the channel quoted John Grotzinger, lead scientist of the MSL mission, as saying in an interview with NPR.

But what is he referring to is a secret for now.

For the past few weeks, rover Curiosity has been busily scooping dirt from a sandy ridge in a geologically interesting location called “Rocknest.”

Using a little scooper attached to its instrument-laden robotic arm, Curiosity has been carefully digging, shaking and dumping the fine soil grains into its Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instruments.

Recently, NASA announced some results from SAM after analyzing samples of Mars air. Interestingly, clues as to Martian atmospheric history were uncovered. Also, mission scientists announced an apparent dearth of methane in the air -- a result that undoubtedly frustrated many hoping for the detection of the gas that may, ultimately, reveal the presence of sub-surface microbial life.

According to NPR article, Grotzinger refers to the SAM data as being the source of the excitement.

One of the instrument’s objectives is to address “carbon chemistry through a search for organic compounds, the chemical state of light elements other than carbon, and isotopic tracers of planetary change,” according to the JPL mission site.

If the new data indicate the detection of organic chemistry, this would certainly be “historic” news.

Also, this would back up the Viking landers’ likely discovery of organics in the 1970s -- a result that could only be confirmed after Mars lander Phoenix made the groundbreaking 2008 discovery that the Martian surface is laced with perchorates.

Although the focus appears to be on organics, this is pure speculation for now.


First Published: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - 17:02

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