Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Organics" on Mars maybe not as exciting as we thought




They really hyped it up.

Just under a month ago, NASA said that a press conference would be held to announce that the Curiosity rover had made a major discovery on Mars, "one for the history books" I believe is the direct quote.   Those high expectations were quickly tamped down by folks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

So what was found?  Well, there's been no confirmation yet of organic compounds found in the soil of Mars.  What has been determined is that the soil does contain water and complex compounds such as percholate.
A NASA researcher named Paul Mahaffy said in a statement issued by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory that "we have no definitive detection of Martian organics at this point, but we will keep looking in the diverse environments of Gale Crater."

Percholate, a toxic substance found in rocket fuel, was detected by the Phoenix Mars Lander in 2008.  The Curiosity findings confirm those from 2008, further suggesting that the percholate is indigenous to Mars and not the product of a meteor or other such collision.  The presence of percholate does actually bolster the case for microbial life on Mars as such single cell lifeforms could utilize percholate as an energy source.

Or not.  There's no way to be sure right now and there probably won't be for a long time.  This is an ongoing game that gets played.  It goes all the way back to the Viking landings in the 1970s.  "We found something but we can't tell what it is yet or even if it really is from Mars."  Now don't get me wrong.  I am painfully aware that there is no Star Trek solution.  There is no such thing as a tricorder and detecting life on Mars is not as simple as "scanning" for it.  This is just an example of how the precision of science is a long and painful process.  But what else are we going to do?

Expanding our exploration of Mars for one thing.  Preferably with manned missions.  That way we could eyeball for any artifacts or constructs (if such things do exist) instead of just the presence of microbes in the pliction and strata of the crust.

Oh who am I kidding?  Like they'd tell us if they found anything bigger than bacteria.


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