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Published:December 9th, 2012 11:05 EST
Did NASA's Curiosity Rover Find Signs of Life in Martian Soil Samples?

Did NASA's Curiosity Rover Find Signs of Life in Martian Soil Samples?

By Ron G Anselm

"To NASA Scientists; discovering extraordinary clues and new facts about Mars is the same emotions as excited children tearing away at the finely wrapped Christmas presents to desperately see if Santa brought them their list of toys and Christmas joy they so desperately hoped Santa would this year." (R.Anselm)

And that is what NASA is hoping the Mars Curiosity Rover will do for them to turn out to be their Santa Clause and bring them new and wonderful clues about the Red Planet as the Curiosity Rover rolls around the Martian surface like Santa magically flying through a finely ridden blizzard with soft snow flakes dusting the moon lit sky on the night of Christmas Eve.

Recently, Curiosity finished analyzing soil samples it has been collecting the last few months which is the first time new information about the surface of Mars has been discovered. Scientists and NASA Engineers equipped Curiosity with a Battalion of research instruments to be able to analyze any material it scooped up with its high-tech, well-engineered and complex computerized arm.

The data found about the Martian soil portrayed a mix of complex chemistry. A mix of water, sulfur and chlorine containing substances with a highlight of other types of chemical and ingredients surprised NASA scientist but also gave them confidence that Curiosity and its technology will be able to analyze any types of material it scoops up and be able to give scientist information they may not have ever known about Mars and the chemical make-up of the surrounding environment. With Curiosity identifying the chemical composition of this material proves it will be able to analyze any material on the surface of the Martian planet. It also tests the high-tech instruments that engineers have taken to the next level when it comes to NASA research and space exploration.

Curiosity was careful in choosing which types of samples it analyzed this go around. Most of the samples taken were from specific soil that came from a drift of windblown dust and sand known as Rocknest. Since Curiosity has logged some miles since landing on Mars it decided to go back to one of the original sites it first researched when landing on Mars known as the flat part of the Gale Crater and take samples from that destination. To be able to get accurate data on material analyzed takes specific instruments.

Some of the built in Laboratory analyzing instruments on Curiosity includes the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite and the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument. SAM used three methods to analyze gases given off from the dusty sand when it was heated in a tiny oven. One class of substances SAM checks for is organic compounds carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life. (

SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA`s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland commented on this by saying, "We have no definitive detection of Martian organics at this point but we will keep looking in the diverse environments of Gale Crater." (Mahaffy, P.)

The types of ingredients for life are the compositions scientists are looking for and as Paul said there is not as of yet any organics that will tell scientists that Mars may become the next planet we can call home if we continue to destroy our planet with global warming and other types of destruction that send our valued wildlife living in what was once lush and green ecosystems that are now nothing more than disgusting chemical filled bacteria traps looking for other homes they can live and raise their young in. With the polluted ecosystems here on Earth motivate NASA scientist to find everything and anything they can about the types of material they analyze on Mars and with this they have chosen the Rocknest site because of the material in and around that area.

Curiosity`s APXS instrument and the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the rover`s arm confirmed Rocknest has chemical-element composition and textural appearance similar to sites visited by earlier NASA Mars rovers Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity. Curiosity`s team selected Rocknest as the first scooping site because it has fine sand particles suited for scrubbing interior surfaces of the arm`s sample-handling chambers. Sand was vibrated inside the chambers to remove residue from Earth. MAHLI close-up images of Rocknest show a dust-coated crust one or two sand grains thick, covering dark, finer sand. (

Ken Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego stated, "Active drifts on Mars look darker on the surface. This is an older drift that has had time to be inactive, letting the crust form and dust accumulate on it." (Edgett, K.)

The material found on Rocknest showed a mix of chemical composition which consisted of about half of common volcanic minerals and half non-crystalline materials such as glass. There were other types of ingredients present other than the common volcanic and half non-crystalline materials but in much lower concentrations. Scientists are specifically looking for materials which contain what is known as isotopes which are different forms of the same element and can provide the needed information about specific environmental changes which is one of the reasons NASA is studying the Martian surface.

The other main ingredient that is essential for sustaining life is of course water and the water found on the surface of Mars that was adjacent to the sand found does not necessarily mean that the sand found on the drift is wet or has a specific amount of water in it which would tell scientist that water does exist on Mars if it did mean that but only means that in most cases it is not uncommon to have various types of water molecules bound to grains of sand or dust which is normal and those same water molecules could have come from anywhere in the solar system in and around the Red Planet.

John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California commented on this by saying, "We used almost every part of our science payload examining this drift. The synergies of the instruments and richness of the data sets give us great promise for using them at the mission`s main science destination on Mount Sharp." (Grotzinger, J.) So, what this means is that the high-tech instruments that detected the chemical compositions on the material analyzed give scientist confidence and hope that even more information about the surface of Mars will be given when Curiosity reaches its main destination to analyze the material there. For now, scientists are determining whether areas inside Gale Crater ever offered a habitable environment for microbes, microbes being another main building block for sustaining life.

So, " as Curiosity continues roaming the surface of Mars analyzing material and giving scientists information on whether Mars may be our next habitable planet and Santa Claus continues making toys that make every kid`s dream come true whether they are naughty or nice; the spirit of the Christmas season fills the air as each and every one of us continue to sit back and enjoy new and wondrous information we hear about from NASA and Mars as those same NASA scientist turn out to be little Christmas elves that fill our minds instead of stockings and build our curiosity instead of jolly snow men about the Martian planet that has inspired and also fascinated us through the decades to what really this mysterious planet may actually be all about.



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