Short NASA: "life," or at least organics, on Mars.
Longer NASA: still not sure if they are Martian in origin or not. More research needed.
Meet me over the Kos squiggly.
Press conference is still going on. The short answer is that organic compounds were found in Martian soil analyzed by the rover Curiosity. The question still remains if it is indigenous to Mars, or if it came from somewhere else, like a meteorite. There are a series of further steps that need to be taken. To listen in, you can go to NASA's live streaming site. Sorry for the short diary (it's my first one) but they are still talking.
Edited to put quotes around "life." My somewhat ironic use of the term didn't come through enough without them.
10:25 AM PT: They have found simple organic chemicals on Mars for the first time. Whether these chemicals are indigenous to Mars or came from elsewhere remains to be investigated. They are relatively sure it is not contamination from the Rover itself. If these organic compounds are the only ones found, it will, in the words of the NASA scientists, be very difficult to make any sort of conclusions about what that means in terms of "life" on Mars, although it will signal that these organics are more widespread in the solar system than previously believed. If they find more organics on Mars, and more types of them, this would indicate "something more interesting" as the NASA guys say.
This first assay was meant to be a wide survey of chemicals in Martian soil on the river bed where Curiosity sits. There was some talk of doing "wet chemistry" that I didn't follow all of, which could potentially reveal more organics if they find an area they suspect to be rich in those compounds. I am not sure from the discussion if Curiosity has this capability or if future missions would be needed. From what the soil scientist said, it sounds as though the current spot where Curiosity is sitting was not thought to be one of those potentially rich sources of organics; again, this sample was just kind of taking the temperature if you will of what was present in a "normal" soil sample.
It is early days in Martian exploration and analysis. This could end up being a mildly interesting dead end, or the beginning of some profound discoveries to come. At any rate, the fact we landed an expensive Chevy on a distant planet 225 million km away, and can do soil and other scientific analyses from a lab built in the back seat, is really kind of cool, no matter what happens.