No Martians, but NASA's Curiosity
rover reports that the first soil sample taken from Mars contains
chlorine-laced compounds similar to ones seen on the Red Planet's frozen
poles and tantalizing hints of others that could be precursors to
NASA landed the $2.5 billion rover on Mars in
August on a mission to search for signs of chemistry indicating whether
habitable conditions for life once existed, or still exist, there. The
soil sample results reported Monday at the American Geophysical Union
meeting in San Francisco contain hints of "organic" chemicals essential
to biochemistry, but the rover team said more analysis is needed.
just don't know if these are indigenous to Mars, and it is going to
take some time to work through," said mission chief scientist John
Grotzinger of Caltech. The carbon compounds could be earthly
contamination from the sampling instruments. Determining whether these
compounds represent "some kind of biological material is well down the
road for us," he added.
A sand pit called Rocknest served up the first soil sample, its
dirt largely made of iron minerals typical of the fine Martian dust
coating the Red Planet. "It's finer than sugar, but coarser than flour,"
said mission imaging scientist Ken Edgett of Malin Space Systems in San
Speculation of dramatic chemistry results that preceded
Monday's presentation led NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which
manages the rover, to issue a news release in advance, downplaying the results.
arriving in August, the nuclear-powered rover has traveled nearly 1,700
feet from its landing site inside the 96-mile-wide Gale Crater on Mars.
Within a year, the rover will travel to apparent clay formations
ringing Aeolis Mons, or "Mount Sharp," a mountain that rises 3.4 miles
above the floor of the crater. The rover is now stationed near a rock it
will inspect with a drill this week, another first for a Mars rover.