Exciting soil sample results??

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PostPosted: November 20, 2012 4:21 PM 

Just saw NPR article on initial results from the SAM on soil samples may be "for the history books". Nothing else has come through while they are probably confirming results and repeat analysis. Any rumors or further speculation???? My money would be that initial results point to lifeform-only mineral deposits....or pics of little green men.


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PostPosted: November 20, 2012 5:57 PM 

I would say the hot money is on organic chemistry, i.e., carbon-based molecules other than carbonates. A necessary condition for life to be present but could also originate from meteorites.

Such a detection might result in a reevaluation of the Viking results.


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PostPosted: November 20, 2012 6:40 PM 

Probably a fossil ... water, water, everywhere, after all. Smile

Thomas Lee Elifritz

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PostPosted: November 20, 2012 8:05 PM 

It won't be anything macroscopic, but I have to admit I was excited when I first saw Hort's reconstructed image of the scoop trench, as that soil looks just like some of the original wheel trench soils dug up by Spirit et al.

Almost oolitic looking. And those original MRE wheel trench MIs revealed a wealth of weird macroscopic oddities which were ... ignored.


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PostPosted: November 20, 2012 9:07 PM 

They found gold.

Glenn Fishbine

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PostPosted: November 21, 2012 7:34 AM 

Typical NASA PhD type stuff. The history books will record that they discovered evidence that Mars had occasional wet periods, and the discovery will be that the salt deposits are really iodized salt, meaning, if there were ever inhabitants of Mars, they didn't have a high rate of thyroid disease.


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PostPosted: November 21, 2012 7:42 AM 

Brace for dissapointment. I remember the 2010 NASA news conference "that would impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life" concerning an arsenate based bacterie.


Subsequent independent studies published in 2012 found no detectable arsenate in the DNA of GFAJ-1, refuted the claim, and demonstrated that GFAJ-1 is simply an arsenate-resistant, phosphate-dependent organism.

Hope they learned from that announcement that was described as sensationalistic and misleading.

But if not. They found traces of Life. Twisted Evil


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PostPosted: November 21, 2012 11:12 AM 

Yes, scientists have an interesting mix of caution and hyperbola in their pronouncements.

If this is organic chemistry, the next question is, what is the carbon-14 ratio? Elevated carbon-14 could be a sign of life. Moreover, if fossilized former life is present, carbon-14 dating might indicate how long ago it died.


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PostPosted: November 22, 2012 10:17 AM 

John Henry Dough, I deleted your duplicate topic. Hope you don't mind.

As much as I would like to be excited by this news about future news I can't be.

I'm with Barsoomer on this one.

I'll bet it will be "golly gee whillikers we found exactly what we were looking for - *** a mineral only produced in low ph water over a long time ***!! ( loud applause. lots of back slapping and big smiles all around. )

Er, do I sound a little cynical this fine day?

Uh, Barsoomer, Radiocarbon Dating is good for only tens of thousands of years - at best. There is absolutely no information on a calibration curve for Mars - and as far as I know - no equipment on MSL - including SAM - that can do the radioactive decay measurements required.

Brian Ritchie

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Reply: 9

PostPosted: November 22, 2012 10:32 AM 

You're right Horton - I suspect that too. The thing you mention would be an important finding, but hardly "historic" or "earthshaking". Let's hope we're wrong this time...


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PostPosted: November 22, 2012 10:39 AM 

Well Curiosity has failed to wow us so far and they are not on a PR push, they are on the Planet the budget is secured for the next 18 months minimum so I go for Organics or something that would have or will support life.

Failing that they have found another thingy that fell off on landing.

If it is Organics then the whole Viking debate starts again.

John Henry Dough

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PostPosted: November 22, 2012 10:51 AM 

Jolly Good there Horton we are all of one mind on this.

John Henry Dough

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PostPosted: November 22, 2012 10:56 AM 

I would be happy to hear that the soil is
suitable to support Earth vegetation.It don't
have to be THAT big of a story,,,just something to excite the people with the money.

Brian Ritchie

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Reply: 13

PostPosted: November 22, 2012 3:19 PM 

Here's a video on this one. He talks about isotopic ratios, which is interesting, and seems to hint that whatever material they've found is widespread on Mars..
I guess we'll just have to wait and see.


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Reply: 14

PostPosted: November 22, 2012 8:56 PM 

Brian, thanks for that link. It appears they have separated the amorphous material from the crystalline material and measured its composition. They also seem to think the amorphous material is essentially the dust that is distributed globally on the planet.

I thought the composition of the dust had been at least partially determined by the Phoenix mission?


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PostPosted: November 22, 2012 10:47 PM 

Hi barsoomer;

Same way I saw it!

Question is, based on NASA's previous track record of making several earth shattering announcements on such things as signs of long gone water, can we hope that the amorphous material contains true organic elements or will the current hype turn out to be about unexciting subsets of those elements with no likelihood of illuminating the path towards the eventual elucidation of the mars life enigma?


Kye Goodwin

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Reply: 16

PostPosted: November 22, 2012 11:19 PM 

Brian Ritchie, thanks for posting that video in 13. It has the most detail of any source I've seen on this "exciting" soil news. Grotzinger describes finding carbonates and extracting CO2 isotope ratios from them, but only as an example of what the MSL can do. The history-making news can't be the simple detection of carbonates because that's already history:


Also from that video we learn that the discovery concerns the nature of the amorphous portion of the soil, the crystalline part having already been determined by X-ray diffraction in CHEMIN.


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Reply: 17

PostPosted: November 23, 2012 12:09 AM 


Apparently SAM can detect amino acids using chemical solvents. Although not mentioned in the link, I think I saw elsewhere that it can also detect nucleotides.

Paul Scott Anderson

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Reply: 18

PostPosted: November 23, 2012 1:52 AM 

Interesting 1/2 hour talk by Daniel Glavin (part of team that developed the SAM instrument on Curiosity) regarding how SAM could possibly detect chemical biosignatures. Whether this relates at all to the new "one for the history books" discovery by Curiosity (using SAM) mentioned by Grotzinger, don't know yet.


Dana Johnson

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Reply: 19

PostPosted: November 23, 2012 6:48 AM 

Possibly amorphous silica from local action of possible water? The brighter items seen in the soil seem to have been buried or altered during movement of the scoop, didn't they? Deposits of Opaline silica would probably be strong enough on Earth to resist simple movement, but on Mars we would have to study the thickness of layered deposits.
They showed olivine crystals during the video Barsoomer linked, so that's not good indication of water liquid over time, but the combination of carbonates or Opaline silica with olivine would give a complex varied conditions history concerning liquid water. Is that a correct assumption?
Would we find the sulphates from the slope here at Curiosity with the wind tending to blow towards Mount Sharp(south), or around it away from Glenelg(east and west)?
This additional not detailed video was in the sub-list of the video from Space.com presented at reply #13.

Was any comment made as yet on the bright items found in number at the scoop site?

If the local material is represented in the fine dune ripples, why would that not be admitted initially in suggestions forwarded with an announcement schedule?

Perhaps they are going to confirm that the MER and MSL dune ripple results are being detailed better with the newer instruments.


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PostPosted: November 23, 2012 2:34 PM 

If Chris McKay and his collaborators are correct about the source of the chloro-hydrocarbons detected by Viking, then I think it extremely likely that SAM has detected similar chemicals. This would put the nail in the coffin once and for all about those being contaminants from cleaning solutions, and would confirm both organics and perchlorates being widespread on Mars.

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