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H/t to Phil in Denver who, yesterday, brought our community the breaking story of impending, blockbuster science news from Curiosity. I thought some analysis of what happened and what we know could be helpful as well.

Project Leader Dr. John Grotzinger knew he was going to be interviewed by NPR, so he arranged to do it in his office. Before the interview even started, as the crew was finishing set-up, Dr. G sat absorbed by the unfolding data coming in on his computer screen. Then out of nowhere, Dr. G spoke:

We're getting data from SAM as we sit here and speak. And the data looks really interesting. The science team is busily chewing away on it. This data is going to be one for the history books. It's looking really good.
Dr. Grotzinger is an American Hero Scientist and not a half bad ruthless media manipulator. I say this because 1) he chose to reveal an impending, blockbuster scientific discovery; 2) as a scoop to none other than NPR (a touching display of intragovernmental comradeship); 3) and then refused to discuss anything further about the discovery pending formal scientific publication of his team's results early next month.

Running the Curiosity science team isn't Dr. G's only gig, he is the Jones Professor at the California Institute of Technology and formerly a professor at MIT. For now, he leaves us to our own imaginations over what this is really about, until NASA publishes its findings for peer review by presenting at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which takes place December 3 to 7 in San Francisco. At the moment, Dr. G looks like a World Class academic pro who knows how to get the biggest possible bang out of a big scientific discovery. Hurrah, I say. We need more government scientists like that.

The interview has set off a storm of speculation that appears to be growing. Come on out into the tall grass if you would like to engage in a bit of that of our own.

I recommend listening to the NPR interview on their site or reading the transcript.

Here is what the LA Times had to say about it, today:

NPR stirred things up Tuesday with a report in which John Grotzinger, principal investigator for the rover mission, called the news a discovery for the history books: "This data is ... looking really good," he said.  The scientist told NPR it would be several weeks before NASA had anything to say. Researchers are being very careful to make sure they get it right before they blab.

Early-morning e-mails to contacts by the Los Angeles Times failed to unearth anyone willing to squeal.  Media reports are full of speculation.

NASA has only just engaged the SAM (Scientific Analysis at Mars) instrument. The interview confirmed that this is where the results are coming from. This is from the fourth and final scoop of sand and dust collected at Rocknest, as illustrated in this image from the rover.

It wasn't that long ago that the news from Curiosity was about "bright grains" in the samples being taken from Rocknest. Then, nothing. So, I wonder first if it has anything to do with that.

Here is another bit of seemingly well informed speculation:

Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument is the one that has made the mysterious discovery. This instrument is designed to address the present and past habitability of Mars by exploring molecular and elemental chemistry.

The instrument addresses carbon chemistry through a search for organic compounds, the chemical state of light elements other than carbon, and isotopic tracers of planetary changes.

Essentially, when putting together the NPR report and what Grotzinger told Palca, it sounds as though NASA is holding back information about a discovery of possible ancient life on Mars.

Unfortunately, we must all await the official announcement. I rather expect interest will build, considerably, in the media.

In the meantime, NASA isn't sitting around. They continue to issue video updates having nothing we know of to do with the big discovery, and have cleverly programmed Curiosity to remain  busy and useful while many on the science team enjoy Thanksgiving with their families. Check out this for details:

For all of my Mars diaries and all things Mars on Daily Kos go to Kossacks on Mars.

Originally posted to Kossacks on Mars on Wed Nov 21, 2012 at 05:32 PM PST.

Also republished by Astro Kos and SciTech.

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