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NASA’s Curiosity rover detects organic compounds on Mars

On Tuesday, November 20, Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger told NPR that an upcoming announcement about data from a recently collected soil sample by Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM, instrument would be “one for the history books.” This comment fueled speculation about the possible discovery of evidence indicating past or present life on Mars.

Curiosity detected sulfur, chlorine, and oxygen compounds in fine grains scooped by the rover at a wind drift site called “Rocknest.” (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC)

NASA announced the latest findings from its Curiosity rover on December 3 during a press conference at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, California. Explaining the announcement, Space.com describes that Curiosity “found evidence of chlorine, sulfur, and water in Mars dirt studied by its onboard laboratory, as well as organic compounds (chemicals containing carbon) inside its Sample Analysis at Mars instrument.”

According to NASA officials, “The chlorine is of Martian origin, but it’s possible the carbon may be of Earth origin, carried by Curiosity and detected by SAM’s high sensitivity design.” Wired.com reports that Paul Mahaffy, SAM’s principal investigator, is trying to avoid fueling further speculation. He carefully stated, “We have no definitive detection of Martian organics at this point, but we will keep looking in the diverse environments of Gale Crater.”

Commenting on his “one for the history books” statement, Grotzinger acknowledged, “I’ve learned that you have to be careful about what you say and even more careful about how you say it. We work at the speed of science. The rest of the world works at the speed of Instagram.”

About Jason McClellan

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Jason McClellan is an editor and staff writer for Open Minds magazine. Jason is also the producer and co-host of the web series Spacing Out!, web content manager and staff writer for OpenMinds.tv, and co-organizer and technical producer of the International UFO Congress. ------ Follow Jason on Twitter @acecentric and subscribe to Jason's updates on Facebook at Facebook.com/jason.openminds

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