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Monday, December 3, 2012

Mars Rover Discovery Revealed

In a sand drift on Mars, NASA's Curiosity rover discovered … sand.

At a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, scientists working on the mission talked about the analysis of the first soil sample they scooped up. By design, it was an unremarkable pinch of dirt, more to test their apparatus than to make discoveries.

John P. Grotzinger, the project scientist, inadvertently set off expectations of a major discovery when he told National Public Radio a couple of wee ks ago that the data was “one for the history books.” He said on Monday that he was talking about the performance of the instruments and not that the data contained a major discovery.

When the soil sample was heated, it released a variety of gases - mostly water and carbon dioxide. But it also did detect simple organic compounds. However, the scientists said it was much too early to say that the soil contained organic compounds. They could have resulted from contamination from Earth, or, more likely, were produced by chemical reactions as the material was heated.

If Curiosity's pinch of sand did include conta in organics, it would again revive the possibilities of life on Mars. For now, Curiosity scientists are still analyzing the data.