Econintersect: NASA scientists are receiving some "really interesting" data from the Curiosity Mars rover. However, they are not at liberty to say anything more than that about it. The data is being collected by the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars instrument (SAM) which includes carbon analysis capabilities. From NPR (National Public Radio):
"We're getting data from SAM as we sit here and speak, and the data looks really interesting," John Grotzinger, the principal investigator for the rover mission, says during my visit last week to his office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. That's where data from SAM first arrive on Earth. "The science team is busily chewing away on it as it comes down," says Grotzinger.
Click on picture for much wider field of view.
Econintersect has some confusion about the image (shown above) which has appeared with a number of news stories about the mystery. It shows an object that looks like a glob of putty or a crumpled up piece of rubber innertube. You can use your imagination about what it looks like.
But is the widely circulated picture related to the current mystery? The NPR story features a different picture which shows five scoop marks in some Martian sand.
Econintersect's conclusion is that the question at the center of the mystery involves something being found in the analysis of the sand.
Since the discussion by NASA has emphasized the carbon analysis function of SAM, Econintersect has developed a short list of possible experimental results from the analysis of the sand:
Carbonate minerals - This would be indicative of prior abundance of water and CO2 on Mars.
Crystalline carbon - The presence of coal or other forms of graphite could indicate abundance of carbon life forms in the history of the planet.
Crystalline carbon - Diamond would not be indicative of earlier carbon based life. Diamonds are formed in deep volcanic activity and by meteor impacts.
Methane hydrate - Probably very unlikely (methane has not been detected in the Martian atmosphere), but would indicate a rich carbon based life form system, probably within the last 100 million years.
Water of crystallization in minerals - This would indicate geologically recent presence of abundant water on Mars. Since water of crystallization is lost through exposure to high temperatures and over geologically long time periods at low pressure, the conditions of Mars could have been considerably different within the last few hundred million years.
Publication of analysis results is expected at the December 3-5 fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Fransisco. Until then, here is a teaser excerpt from NPR:
Grotzinger says they recently put a soil sample in SAM, and the analysis shows something earthshaking. "This data is gonna be one for the history books. It's looking really good," he says.
- Mars Mystery: Has Curiosity Rover Made a Big Discovery? (Mike Wall, Space.com, 20 November 2012)
- Big News From Mars? Rover Scientists Mum For Now (Joe Palca, NPR, 20 November 2012)
- Mars Rover Curiosity Will Hunt for Life's Building Blocks (Marc Kaufman, Astrobiology Magazine, Space.com, 03 August 2012)