Mars rover Curiosity: No surprise in 1st soil test
LOS ANGELES (AP) — NASA's Curiosity rover has indeed found something in the Martian dirt. But so far, there's no definitive sign of the chemical ingredients necessary to support life.
A scoop of sandy soil analyzed by Curiosity's sophisticated chemistry laboratory contained water and a mix of chemicals, but not complex carbon-based molecules considered essential for life.
That the soil was not more hospitable did not surprise mission scientist Paul Mahaffy since radiation from space can destroy any carbon evidence.
"It's not unexpected necessarily," said Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, who is in charge of the chemistry experiments. "It's been exposed to the harsh Martian environment."
The latest findings were presented Monday at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. The mission managed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory is trying to determine whether conditions on Mars could have been favorable for microbes when the red planet was warmer and wetter.
Hopes for a "Mars-shaking" discovery peaked two weeks ago after mission chief scientist John Grotzinger told National Public Radio: "This data is gonna be one for the history books. It's looking really good."
The Internet lit up with excitement. NASA later clarified that Grotzinger was referring generally to the mission and not a specific result. Days before the science gathering, the space agency sought to contain expectations and issued a statement insisting there'd be no big news.
So what did Curiosity find after baking the soil and analyzing the resulting gases?
Water, sulfur and perchlorate, a highly oxidizing salt that was also detected by one of NASA's previous spacecraft, the Phoenix lander, in the northern Martian latitudes.
"This is typical, ordinary Martian soil," said mission scientist Ralf Gellert of the University of Guelph in Canada.
The rover did detect hints of a simple carbon compound, but scientists don't yet know if it's native to the planet, came from space or hitchhiked from Earth.
News Photo Galleriesview all
- 83533Oklahoma tornadoes: The 'Big Dog,' the little boy and the hug that triumphs over tragedy
- 16617OKC Thunder: Kevin Durant tours Moore, meets with residents
- 12334Oklahoma tornadoes: ‘All I could do was sit there and hold her'
- 12075Clippers' Donald Sterling hints coach let go to keep Chris Paul
- 11110Oklahoma tornado: Names of dead released; missing individuals located
- 9568Oklahoma tornadoes: Red Cross text donations not designated for Oklahoma
- 8849How to help tornado victims