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mars rover organic compoundsmars rover organic compounds

Has Curiosity Discovered Organic Compounds on Mars?

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Speculation is rife over a major announcement set to come from NASA early next month regarding a soil sample scooped up from the Mars Curiosity Rover. The rover’s principal investigator, geologist John Grotzinger of Caltech, told NPR yesterday that “data is gonna be one for the history books. It’s looking really good.”

What’s the big deal? The discovery is connected to Curiosity’s  Sample Analysis at Mars instrument (SAM) which analyzes soil for organic compounds — the carbon-containing building blocks of life as we know it. While the rover isn’t designed to detect life – finding organic compounds would suggest the possibility that an early Mars once had life similar to an early Earth.

“Life emerged billions of years ago on Earth, and a fundamental question that remains is, ‘Did life also emerge on Mars at that time, and if not, why not?'” SAM leader Paul Mahaffy told Space.com earlier this year.

“If life did emerge at some time, is it still present today? Or was the transformation of Mars so rapid that life could never get a foothold?” Mahaffy added. “Curiosity takes important steps toward providing a basis for answering these questions with a detailed study of early Martian environments.”

For now, we’ll have to wait until NASA unveils its findings at a press conference during the 2012 American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco from Dec. 3 to 7. Everyone excited?

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