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Mars NASA Science

Mars Rover Finds Complex Chemicals But No Organic Compounds 137

techtech writes in with the results from the first soil samples tested by the Curiosity rover. "Although NASA's Curiosity rover hasn't yet confirmed the detection of organic compounds on Mars, it's already seeing that the Red Planet's soil contains complex chemicals — including signs of an intriguing compound called perchlorate. The first soil sample analysis from Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars lab, or SAM, was the leadoff topic today at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in San Francisco. The findings were eagerly awaited because of rumors that the Curiosity team was on the verge of announcing major findings — and although NASA tamped down expectations, the scientists said they were overjoyed with the first round of analysis."
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Mars Rover Finds Complex Chemicals But No Organic Compounds

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  • by Squidlips ( 1206004 ) on Monday December 03, 2012 @03:03PM (#42171783)
    Get your facts straight before you fly off the handle. Neither NASA or JPL said anything about earth-shattering or breakthrough. Nothing. There was no official announcement of the kind. There were just a few off-the-cuff remarks by the chief scientist (Grotzinger) made to Joe Palca of NPR about MSL being a landmark missions and how the mission would re-write the history books. But then it was the press and bloggers who blew this way out of proportion.
  • by crazyjj ( 2598719 ) * on Monday December 03, 2012 @03:10PM (#42171885)

    The quote comes from rover lead John Grotzinger, in a recent NPR interview [npr.org]:

    Here are the relevant quotes from the interview:

    "We're getting data from SAM as we sit here and speak, and the data looks really interesting,"

    "The science team is busily chewing away on it as it comes down."

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

  • by mws1066 ( 1057218 ) on Monday December 03, 2012 @03:13PM (#42171911)
    "Grotzinger says they recently put a soil sample in SAM, and the analysis shows something Earth-shaking. 'This data is gonna be one for the history books. It's looking really good,' he says.""
  • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Monday December 03, 2012 @03:37PM (#42172141)

    Perchlorate is intriguing for a number of reasons that are tangental to the compound's intrinsic character.

    First, it is a potentially biologically useful compound as an oxygen source for single cellular respiration in autochemotrophs.

    Second, if concentrations are high enough, the salt lowers the melting point of water sufficiently that martian soil could be "moist" at sufficient depths.

    Also, the compound usually only forms in nature from UV irridation of aqueous saline solutions. A high abundance of the mineral is very suggestive of a very different mars from what we see now.

    Previous rovers have detected gypsum, and perchlorates at other locations. Additional samplings of perchlorates increases the probability that the mineral is very prevelent in the crust, which greatly increases the chances of finding microbiotic life.

    The fact that perchlorate salts are about as "interesting" as O2, salt, silicon dioxide, and other inorganic substances here on earth does not mean that they are uninteresting in an environment that is radically different from our own.

  • by skelly33 ( 891182 ) on Monday December 03, 2012 @03:52PM (#42172293)
    It's all over the fricken Internet. It was in the NPR report and it looks like the report has since been edited to remove the comment, perhaps out of embarrassment. The transcript from the same report however still includes the quote...

    "PALCA: Put a sample of Martian soil or rock or even air inside SAM and it will tell you what the sample's made of. Right now, SAM is working on a Mars soil sample, and [John] Grotzinger says the results are earth-shaking."

    From NPR Transcript [npr.org]

    Grotzinger is the "principal investigator for the rover mission".
  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwater.gmail@com> on Monday December 03, 2012 @04:08PM (#42172447) Homepage

    So, no... NASA didn't refer to this as "earth-shattering" or "a breakthrough", and the original poster is talking out of his ass.

  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Monday December 03, 2012 @04:35PM (#42172669) Homepage

    Oxygen is, wait for it, a wicked oxidizer. Current life forms have evolved multiple processes to mitigate damage caused by having such a reactive chemical in the atmosphere.

    But it's an energy source. Gotta have those electrons.

Vitamin C deficiency is apauling.