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Curiosity’s Curious “Finding” on Mars

Something in the soil? Curiosity Mars rover image of the Martian neighborhood. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

The scientific community is abuzz about NASA’s one-ton Mars rover, Curiosity, making a finding using a suite of instruments called SAM that can gulp in and analyze Martian soil samples.

Those SAM findings have not yet been released.

The story that kick-started all the speculation was reported November 20 by National Public Radio.

“Big News From Mars? Rover Scientists Mum For Now” discussed hints by NASA’s Curiosity rover lead scientist that something very exciting has been detected.

Said Curiosity science leader, John Grotzinger:

“This data is going to be one for the history books. It’s looking really good.”

SAM has also “sniffed” the Martian air for methane. Earlier this month, those breathing-in exercises by SAM were reported to have turned up no sign of methane.

If the atmosphere of Mars contains methane, various possibilities have been proposed for where the methane could come from and how it could disappear.

Potential non-biological sources for methane on Mars include comets, degradation of interplanetary dust particles by ultraviolet light, and interaction between water and rock.

A potential biological source would be microbes, if microbes have ever lived on Mars.

Potential sinks for removing methane from the atmosphere are photochemistry in the atmosphere and loss of methane to the surface.

So has/hasn’t Curiosity detected something for the history books?

Meanwhile, check out the NPR radio show at:

http://www.npr.org/2012/11/20/165513016/big-news-from-mars-rover-scientists-mum-for-now

By Leonard David

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