Yes, but is there life on earth?
Results of soil sample analysis by NASA's Curiosity rover may have yielded a significant scientific discovery on Mars, possibly of organic compounds, but until NASA makes a more detailed announcement at a conference in early December, the public will have to sift through available clues.
"This data is one for the history books," NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist John Grotzinger recently told National Public Radio, while adding that he could not divulge more until scientists had a better chance to vet the data. Hypotheses have ranged from a discovery of complex organic matter to chemicals indicating the presence of water.
According to Grotzinger, NASA's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) was the tool that facilitated the discovery. SAM is a hypersensitive set of three instruments -- a quadrupole mass spectrometer, a gas chromatograph and a tunable laser spectrometer -- that process and analyze soil samples in search of compounds containing carbon and other elements associated with life.
NASA plans to announce the news at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which takes place December 3 to 7 in San Francisco.
Exciting! And heartening, in a way.