Something big could be brewing on the dusty plains of Mars – but NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, located in Pasadena, Calif., is keeping mum as to what that discovery might be. It appears that NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity has found something on the Red Planet. AmericaSpace first got word of the news from #Penny4NASA when the website stated that “Earthshaking” news was on the horizon.
A recent soil sample collected and analyzed by Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument apparently found something that has scientists at JPL all aflutter – but they are not saying why.
Well, it wasn't just about finding something organic, even though that's what all the media have been assuming and anticipating. Yes, they identified some compounds. But that was expected. Yes, they might be characterized as organic. But they won't know for a while.
But that's all the media can find to get worked up about, even though it's not what's exciting the scientists.
What's so exciting?
1. MSL took its first clean soil sample.
2. MSL has a great site to explore.
3. MSL has great sampling instruments.
4. The scientists have great procedures in place.
In other words, they have built a great laboratory in a terrific location, it's ready to go, and the information it produces will be sound and reliable.
NASA scientists are just now confirming that they have access to soil that will provide a wealth of information about Mars, and that they will continue to do so.
They are able to confirm this because they have tested all the instruments on MSL and put them to good use. Every instrument is very sensitive, every instrument is vital or very important to the success of the mission, and every instrument is performing very well.
They are also able to confirm this because they have very careful and methodical sets of procedures in place, and more being developed as they progress, so that they can prevent or minimize the introduction of false data.
Yes, they are discovering chemical compounds. That's what MSL does. Yes, the compounds might indicate an environment that supports life. But no singular compound will do this. No snapshot will adequately represent the findings of the MSL. The MSL is on a two-year mission, during which it will continue to sample and analyze bits of Mars, take pictures, and send tons of specialized data to Earth. MSL is there for the long haul and the big picture.
The Entry, Decent, and Landing team celebrated an excellent landing on August 5-6. Now the scientists are celebrating the completion of their first step on the journey ahead, and the knowledge that they will be able to build a comprehensive Mars library as the mission progresses.
Goals and objectives
The MSL mission has four scientific goals: Determine the landing site's habitability including the role of water, the study of the climate and the geology of Mars. It is also useful preparation for a future manned mission to Mars.
To contribute to these goals, MSL has eight main scientific objectives:
(1) Determine the nature and inventory of organic carbon compounds
(2) Investigate the chemical building blocks of life (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur)
(3) Identify features that may represent the effects of biological processes (biosignatures)
Geological and geochemical
(4) Investigate the chemical, isotopic, and mineralogical composition of the Martian surface and near-surface geological materials
(5) Interpret the processes that have formed and modified rocks and soils
(6) Assess long-timescale (i.e., 4-billion-year) Martian atmospheric evolution processes
(7) Determine present state, distribution, and cycling of water and carbon dioxide
(8) Characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation, including galactic radiation, cosmic radiation, solar proton events and secondary neutrons
As part of its exploration, it also measured the radiation exposure in the interior of the spacecraft as it traveled to Mars, and it is continuing radiation measurements as it explores the surface of Mars. This data would be important for a future manned mission.