Has Curiosity made an 'Earth-shaking' discovery?

Nov 21, 2012 by Nancy Atkinson, Universe Today
Has Curiosity made an ‘Earth-shaking’ discovery?
This image was taken by Front Hazcam onboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 102 (2012-11-18 21:41:54 UTC). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Mars Science Laboratory team has hinted that they might have some big news to share soon. But like good scientists, they are waiting until they verify their results before saying anything definitive. In an interview on NPR today, MSL Principal Investigator John Grotzinger said a recent soil sample test in the SAM instrument (Sample Analysis at Mars) shows something 'earthshaking.'

"This data is gonna be one for the history books," he said. "It's looking really good."

What could it be?

Update story: Life on Mars? Maybe not: NASA rows back on findings

SAM is designed to investigate the chemical and isotopic composition of the Martian atmosphere and soil. In particular, SAM is looking for , which is important in the search for life on Mars. Life as we know it cannot exist without organic molecules; however, they can exist without life. SAM will be able to detect lower concentrations of a wider variety of organic molecules than any other instrument yet sent to Mars.

A detailed look at the layers on Aeolis Mons/Mt. Sharp, the central mound inside Gale Crater, the Curiosity rover’s ultimate destination. Credit: NASA/Caltech-JPL/MSSS

As many scientists have said, both the presence and the absence of organic molecules would be important science results, as both would provide important information about the environmental conditions of Gale Crater on Mars.

But something 'Earthshaking' or "really good" probably wouldn't be a nil result.

Already, the team has found evidence for huge amounts of flowing water in Gale Crater.

If SAM does find organic material, the next step would be to determine the origin and the nature of preservation of the molecules. But the team is going to wait until they verify whatever it is they found.

As NPR's Joe Palca says in his report, "They have some exciting new results from one of the rover's instruments. On the one hand, they'd like to tell everybody what they found, but on the other, they have to wait because they want to make sure their results are not just some fluke or error in their instrument."

The team is being cautious because of their experience with looking for methane in the Martian air. When one of the SAM instruments analyzed an air sample, they got a reading of methane. But, it turned out, they were likely measuring some of the air that was brought along from Florida, as air leaked into the Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS) while the spacecraft was awaiting launch. The initial readings from the TLS, full of methane, were very exciting to the Curiosity scientists until they realized it was from Earth.

But NPR reports that Grotzinger says it will take several weeks before he and his team are ready to talk about their latest finding.

In the meantime there will likely be much speculation as everyone is excited about the prospects of life – past or present – on Mars. Either would have astounding implications.

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Lurker2358
1.8 / 5 (13) Nov 21, 2012
They are in a fossil crater, which both makes sense and doesn't make sense as a destination for exploration, because it's likely contaminated with extra-planetary material from the impact. Still, it would give access to lower rock strata.

Finding "organic compounds" wouldn't be "Earth Shattering" because we already found organics in Asteroids and Comets, and you're obviously at the bottom of an impact crater.

It could just be hyperbole, in the sense that if you were a scientist who helped plan and build this thing, you'd probably get over excited over any relatively minor discovery, and have a tendency to inflate it's importance.

"We found a dry stream bed! It's Earth Shattering!"

When in reality almost a year ago an orbiter apparently spotted flowing water on the surface.

"We found a methane molecule! Oh my!"

No, wait, that came from the instrument.

"There's another one!"

Meh, comes from the impacter.

You know. Jumping at shadows.
cantdrive85
2.2 / 5 (21) Nov 21, 2012
"Science today is about getting some results, framing those results in an attention-grabbing media release and basking in the glory."
—Kerry Cue, Canberra Times, 5 October 2011

Sinister1811
2.5 / 5 (12) Nov 21, 2012
I don't think it would be anything major, like life on Mars, or the discovery of fossils. It's probably just something minor (i.e. they found a water droplet on Mars). They always do that - they pretend that they have some major announcement, and then you find out that it's only something tiny, or something we already knew.
aennen
3.2 / 5 (6) Nov 21, 2012
Havent we been down this road before with history changing anouncements....
LariAnn
3.3 / 5 (14) Nov 21, 2012
My idea of an "earthshaking" discovery would be that, on scooping a load of Martian soil, the cam showed that something was squirming within the scooped soil. Then, a strange wormlike creature emerged from the soil, crawled up and out of the scoop, and fell to the Martian surface, where it promptly buried itself again. Verifying it means they need to scoop up another one of them and try to vaporize it for analysis before it can squirm away again.

Then again, the truth may be just that they found some mineral they didn't expect to find - hardly earthshaking in any sense meaningful to the great majority of people on Earth.
antialias_physorg
4.4 / 5 (18) Nov 21, 2012
Science today is about getting some results, framing those results in an attention-grabbing media release and basking in the glory

You are aware that no scientist goes out of his way to make PR? That's one of the least fun (read: positively terrible) parts of the job, because it always means you have to go and talk to dumb people (i.e. you will have to dumb your findings down and people will invariabley misinterpret what you say). You only do that when invited to (or you have something REALLY great)

Getting stuff out in scientific publications is already a drag, because it means a lot of extra work for no real benefit to yourself. But at least there you have an audience who accurately understand what they read.

With public radio (or even science journalisms - like many of the articles physorg kinks to) that's not the case.
That's more like trying to explain colors to blind people.
Sinister1811
2.6 / 5 (13) Nov 21, 2012
The discovery of life beyond Earth would pose somewhat of a problem for major religions. But they would probably just claim that "God" or "Allah" put it there, or dismiss it as an Earthly contaminant, that hitched a ride aboard the Curiosity rover.
antialias_physorg
4.6 / 5 (9) Nov 21, 2012
I don't think it will be life. I'm betting more on stuff like water, recent volcanic activity, similar isotope ratios with Earth or the like.

But it's good of them to be cautious. Better sit on it and make double/triple sure. Otherwise some loony will just shout his mouth off about "why are we spnding so much money on this" if it turns out to be a false positive.
Alphonso
3.6 / 5 (5) Nov 21, 2012
ancient algae?
tekram
3.3 / 5 (6) Nov 21, 2012
They found some left over turkey for Thanksgiving?

No, but most likely some organic molecules which are stable to oxidation:
We conclude that nonvolatile salts of benzenecarboxylic acids, and perhaps oxalic and acetic acid, should be metastable intermediates of meteoritic organics under oxidizing conditions. Salts of these organic acids would have been largely invisible to GC-MS. Experiments show that one of these, benzenehexacarboxylic acid (mellitic acid), is generated by oxidation of organic matter known to come to Mars, is rather stable to further oxidation, and would not have been easily detected by the Viking experiments. Approximately 2 kg of meteorite-derived mellitic acid may have been generated per m2 of Martian surface over 3 billion years.
SleepTech
5 / 5 (2) Nov 21, 2012
They delivered first sample to SAM on sol 96. Then delivered more from same scoop to SAM on sol 98... So maybe what they found came from that scoop. December 7th is a tempting little time period to wait for answers. I hope they'll give us a hint between now and then if it's really "earthshaking" or if it's a story that Grotzinger just got excited about.
GSwift7
2.7 / 5 (10) Nov 21, 2012
Then again, the truth may be just that they found some mineral they didn't expect to find


ancient algae?


Petrolium. Now THAT would be Earthshaking. lol

I like the above suggestion of the sample crawling out of the analyzer too. It reminds me of a Calvin and Hobbs cartoon: Calvin - "Hey dad, close your eyes and open your mouth." Dad - reluctantly agrees. Calvin - "Oh, wait a second, it got away"

We conclude that nonvolatile salts of benzenecarboxylic acids, and perhaps oxalic and acetic acid, should be metastable


I'm not sure I understand the signifigance. A possible source of extractable oxygen or fuel compounds for potential mars explorers? Benzene and oxygen would both be useful. Or does this have some significance as to the history of water and oxygen on Mars?
NOM
2.6 / 5 (5) Nov 21, 2012
Finding tire tracks would be 'Earthshaking'
NeutronicallyRepulsive
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 21, 2012
First of all wouldn't it be Mars-shaking? Maybe they've found tectonic plates, now that would be potentially Earth-shaking I mean Mars-shaking.
rubberman
2.3 / 5 (8) Nov 21, 2012
Finding tire tracks would be 'Earthshaking'


haha...or a tire.

Seriously though, they just published another article downplaying the previous announcments exhuberance.
rwinners
3.4 / 5 (5) Nov 21, 2012
The discovery of life beyond Earth would pose somewhat of a problem for major religions. But they would probably just claim that "God" or "Allah" put it there, or dismiss it as an Earthly contaminant, that hitched a ride aboard the Curiosity rover.


Are you kidding? They would undoubtedly get behind space exploration in a big way, seeking new converts!
NOM
3.3 / 5 (3) Nov 21, 2012
It's got to be an obelisk.

... and they will program curiosity to zap it with its laser on December 21st!
semmsterr
5 / 5 (3) Nov 22, 2012
Can't wait to hear what's up!
dan42day
2 / 5 (6) Nov 22, 2012
They probably just found debris from the alien spaceship that crashed eons ago creating the crater. There's no life on mars.
zaxxon451
3 / 5 (3) Nov 22, 2012
Your comment made me think of the Priest's Tale in Hyperion and the discovery of the cruciforms. Curiosity won't last long if we've stumbled across the Time Tombs.

The discovery of life beyond Earth would pose somewhat of a problem for major religions. But they would probably just claim that "God" or "Allah" put it there, or dismiss it as an Earthly contaminant, that hitched a ride aboard the Curiosity rover.


Are you kidding? They would undoubtedly get behind space exploration in a big way, seeking new converts!

VendicarD
5 / 5 (2) Nov 22, 2012
Here is the NASA Announcement.

http://www.youtub...rfZMdB24
Lurker2358
1.4 / 5 (9) Nov 22, 2012
The discovery of life beyond Earth would pose somewhat of a problem for major religions. But they would probably just claim that "God" or "Allah" put it there, or dismiss it as an Earthly contaminant, that hitched a ride aboard the Curiosity rover.


Problems for people's interpretations. Not as problematic for what the text says.

While it's clear the literal texts are not correct, many of these texts, including the Bible, describe beings from the "heavens" coming to Earth on many occasions.

The Beauty of "God put it there" is that it works, no matter what the exactly physical mechanism happens to be.

If the Omnipotent Being exists, then it's impossible for "God put it there" to ever be wrong.

The reason you can't falsify the statement is because it's impossible for the statement to be false.
SoylentGrin
3 / 5 (2) Nov 24, 2012
In the event of encountering intelligent life elsewhere, the religions of the world would be very reluctant to ask direct questions.
Imagine the first missionary talking to the aliens of Tau Ceti IV, asking if they have accepted Jesus as their savior, or if they believe in God.

"Who?"

They would wait for information to trickle out (or purposefully slow down progress and communication) in order to buy enough time to interpret and spin.
Osiris1
1 / 5 (5) Nov 25, 2012
Always believe the first report in these situations. That has been my impression since the denials of WMD in Iraq often followed initial positive tests. It was then much later that we learned the initial reports were quashed by commanders who wanted to keep the stuff they found so they could surreptitiously use it as a weapon and not have to be blamed for it...could say 'others' did it.
Would guess the folks DID find something outstanding, but it may be not what some may think. Suppose they found a really rich deposit of gold or uranium. Our gov't would WANT to keep this a secret so we could secretly begin a program to 'explore' that area and 'return some samples' (mine the stuff as much as possible).
If we find life or probability of the same, that means we have to protect our future explorers. This life, inured to martian hardship for eons, may find US just.. delicious! YUMMY! This means any microscopic life, however old or presumed dead. We can NOT presume this!
Osiris1
1 / 5 (5) Nov 25, 2012
Of course if they have found 'the Andromeda Strain', maybe the microbes or virus will be content to eat each and every gasket and rubber or vinyl seal or whatever on the rover.........
Seriously, I would be content to Curiosity, Steven Hawking's film series namesake, finding any kind of microbe whether living or dead or fossilized. Having done this, we would have to protect all our explorers as if they were immersed in a class IV biohazard situation. To do any other would invite the 'creeping unknown' scenario when they return. Any exploration mission would gain a 'creepy factor' bordering on paranoia. You can not keep something that is 'out there'...out! It can not be done. We probably already brought new Martian 'settlers' with us on board Curiosity. We 'say' we brought methane from Florida. BS! I used to LIVE in Florida, graduated High School and went to College there. Methane stinks, and I never smelled that there. As a chem major then, I would know.
Feldagast
1 / 5 (4) Nov 25, 2012
In the event of encountering intelligent life elsewhere, the religions of the world would be very reluctant to ask direct questions.
Imagine the first missionary talking to the aliens of Tau Ceti IV, asking if they have accepted Jesus as their savior, or if they believe in God.

"Who?"

They would wait for information to trickle out (or purposefully slow down progress and communication) in order to buy enough time to interpret and spin.

Imagine if the aliens said we all believe in Jesus, that would be even more crazy.
NOM
3 / 5 (4) Nov 25, 2012
Suppose they found a really rich deposit of gold or uranium. Our gov't would WANT to keep this a secret so we could secretly begin a program to 'explore' that area and 'return some samples' (mine the stuff as much as possible).
It wouldn't matter how much gold they found, it wouldn't be worth the cost to mine.
If they found significant amounts of uranium the last thing NASA would do is keep quiet. It would make a future base much more viable to have an available source of fuel.

If we find life or probability of the same, that means we have to protect our future explorers. This life, inured to martian hardship for eons, may find US just.. delicious! YUMMY!
There are plenty of bacteria, etc, on Earth that have evolved to live in harsh environments. None of these have made a meal of us.
Jeddy_Mctedder
1.5 / 5 (8) Nov 25, 2012
theres gold in them ther hills of mars!
kochevnik
2.6 / 5 (5) Nov 25, 2012
Imagine if the aliens said we all believe in Jesus, that would be even more crazy.
They refused to submit, so the all wise and loving god vaporized them along with the oceans. Then he crushed all the fossils because he wasn't going to make that mistake twice, being omnipotent and omniscent. Reputation management is a critical skill that all deities must master.
despinos
1.8 / 5 (5) Nov 26, 2012

Getting stuff out in scientific publications is already a drag, because it means a lot of extra work for no real benefit to yourself. But at least there you have an audience who accurately understand what they read.
.


Unfortunately, the majority of the research community (Phd and post Phd) are more worried about publishing papers in magazines with high impact numbers than in basic reserach. Unpublished work is not recognized, and will give you no grants, no funding money and no chances of being hired. Scientist (usually) get no fun (or satisfaction) out of redacting papers to get published, but in the academic world they need it more than getting actual results
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (4) Nov 26, 2012
Unfortunately, the majority of the research community (Phd and post Phd) are more worried about publishing papers in magazines with high impact numbers than in basic reserach.

I guess you should start to either do some research or even talk to anyone who does research before posting such baseless BS. If you'd do that you'd find out pretty quickly that that is just plain wrong.

You publish because you must and because it is expected - but not because you really want to.
Yes: publications do help with grants.
Yes: having a certain impact score is often a pererequsite if you want to become a professor.

But you get no 'fun' out of papers in any case. They are weeks (and for book-chapters and the like months) of hard work in which you aren't doing the stuff that is the real fun: actual research.

No one goes into academics for the publications. No one.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (4) Nov 26, 2012
Reputation management is a critical skill that all deities must master.


"When you can flatten entire cities at a whim, a tendency towards quiet reflection and seeing-things-from-the-other-fellow's-point- of-view is seldom necessary."
-- Terry Pratchett
Osiris1
1.1 / 5 (7) Nov 26, 2012
Go to : http://www.marsda...999.html
here you will find a little more intrigue to go with our daily ration of backbiting and patho-skepticism. Seems as the Russians, and maybe more know of this too. WE are the last to know, of course. Why am I not surprised? Maybe it is like when I gave my grandson a hammer and peg set for his birthday when he was a small child. Smart kid him...he promptly found another use for that hammer. He chased his big sister with it when she got into his stuff. And so it is with this info. It probably really is useful somewhere, or maybe is quite controversial so the world's public needs to be 'prepared'. It is IS life, maybe there are some religions out there that may want to make war to keep it quiet. I suspect that Islam will be more accepting of this as space travel is part of their faith, and other children of God probably too.
First thought is whose money is at risk?
factorus
1 / 5 (1) Nov 28, 2012
Once again falsehoods and myths are perpetuated. This concerns an interview by National Public Radio reporter Joe Palca with JPL Curiosity Rover Project Scientist John Grotzinger. The full interview is here (audio) "straight from the horses mouth"
Audio at NPR website
Project Scientist John Grotzinger did not state the results where "earthshaking".It was an edited "question" by the interviewer John Palca . John Grotzinger did state " One for the history books"…..etc.
Copy of email from Guy Webster JPL who's correct title is Media Relations Specialistconfirms John Grotzinger was mis quoted.