posted on Nov, 26 2012 @ 04:32 PM
I'm aware of the thread on the upcoming announcement of an important finding on Mars. I came across this article on
, that looks at what some scientists are discussing
and thought I would share.
Whatever history-making news there is to report, Curiosity scientists are expected to cough up the goods at this year's American Geophysical Union
(AGU) meeting in San Francisco, to be held from Dec. 3 to Dec. 7.
On the AGU agenda is a discussion of Curiosity's search for organic molecules on Mars with its Gas Chromatograph-Mass Spectrometer — a key
instrument to help explore the surface and subsurface of Mars, seeking traces of prebiotic or biological activity.
As expected, readers in the blogosphere have already chimed in with what they believe Curiosity has found; their guesses so far have included a
fossil, a black monolith, Tang and Jimmy Hoffa.
The good news is we can expect to know what, exactly, is so exciting between Dec 3, and Dec 7. Personally I hope it's the third. I'm sure I'm not
alone in wondering if this is finally it, proof that life can/did/does exist outside of Earth. Here's some commentary from the science community...
Most scientists contacted by SPACE.com believe that Curiosity's SAM has detected organic chemical compounds. Still, some experts caution that the
rover's finding may be overhyped.
Well they're scientists, they're not supposed to get hyped until they've seen conclusive data.
"This is going to be a disappointment," said Chris McKay, a NASA space scientist at Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. "The press
description of the SAM results as 'earthshaking' is, in my view, an unfortunate exaggeration. We have not (yet) found anything in SAM that was not
already known from previous missions: Phoenix and Viking."
Well, how does he know what they've found, I believe no one outside the SAM team knows anything yet. A CTer might find it interesting that he mentions
Viking and what we already know from that. (I'm not sure it was conclusive one way or the other what Viking found on Mars.)
But James Garvin, chief scientistat NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and a member of Curiosity's Mars Science Laboratory
(MSL) science team, had a different take.
"What John Grotzinger was saying as our very capable project scientist on MSL is exactly the case," Garvin said. "The analytical payload on MSL —in
particular, SAM as a suite —has been making unprecedented measurements of solid material samples with incredible implications about Mars, but which
require, as in all science, demonstration of reproducibility and adequacy of calibration/validation."
Garvin said the SAM team, plus the wider MSL science team (including Grotzinger), "are working industriously to have consistent results for the world
to revel in as soon as possible."
"It is more akin to waiting for test results from one's doctor … we want to be sure they are valid and properly interpreted and explained," Garvin
Unlike imaging and related experiments, highly sensitive results from SAM's instruments, which include mass spectrometers, tunable diode laser
spectrometers and gas chromatographs —require very great care in calibration, validation and interpretation, Garvin emphasized.
"MSL with its Curiosity rover really is analogous to the Hubble Space Telescope in the impact it can and will have —we just have to be patient,"
Similar to the Hubble Space Telescope, Garvin added, "We have to be patient to use our tools to look at the 'right stuff.' Stay tuned … Mars will
not disappoint and nor will MSL."
Also awaiting the word from the Curiosity science team is Michael Mumma, a planetary scientist also at NASA Goddard, where he is founding director
of the Goddard Center for Astrobiology.
"It clearly relates to the first soil sample analyzed by SAM. I suspect the delay means that a second sample is being analyzed to confirm findings
from the first," Mumma said.
In Mumma's view, "blockbuster findings" could include the discovery of a major release of methane from pyrolyzed soil, with measurements of certain
intriguing chemical variations called isotopologues. A finding of complex hydrocarbons (molecules containing hydrogen and carbon) or of a type of
chemical compound called polymers, would also be a major discovery.
This may be the dreaded "It's exciting to scientists but not to the general public" we're all so familiar with.
"I think the minimum finding that could get Grotzinger to describe it as 'historic' is complex organic compounds," said Gilbert Levin, an adjunct
professor at Arizona State University in Tempe.
Levin was a life-detection experimenter on NASA's Viking mission to Mars in 1976. Levin and co-experimenter Patricia Ann Straat led the Viking Labeled
Release (LR) investigation, which returned data from Mars indicating the presence of microbial life, the team asserts.
"I have already pointed out that the Viking PR [The Viking biology package also consisted of the Pyrolytic Release experiment (PR)] showed that simple
organics are continually being formed on Mars, so they would be no big deal for Curiosity," Levin told SPACE.com. "I doubt SAM could have detected
proof of living microorganisms. But, slowly, ineluctably, NASA is being dragged into the mire of life on Mars, and will ultimately, maybe soon, have
to reverse its opinion on the results of the Viking LR."
This I like very much and brings up an important question. If (huge if) there does happen to be microbial life on Mars, does the Viking crew get
credited with the discovery or does the Curiosity crew get it... shared?
I can't wait to know.
edit on 26-11-2012 by Kali74 because: (no reason given)