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NASA's Curiosity Rover Picks Up No Signs of Microbial Life on Mars ... Yet?

The rover is just four months into a two-year mission on the Red Planet.

Anyone hoping for the detection of signs of life on Mars by NASA's Curiosity rover may be disappointed with information released during a press conference Monday. 

First, the $2.5 billion rover that landed in Mars on Aug. 5 is there to determine if the Red Planet could ever have supported microbial life. Scientists are particularly interested in organic compounds. But there's more that complicates the mission for those who just want to know if there's life on Mars. 

"Organic molecules do not equal life," Patrick Rowan writes for The Republican. "They are just a major component." 

But Rowan just wants to know — Is there life on Mars or not? 

"You’d think that after all the probes we’ve sent there over the years — including four rovers (two currently operating), we’d know by now. What’s the holdup?" Rowan writes. "Like many others, I want to know ... need to know. And now! I don’t have forever." 

While the rover has picked up what the Los Angeles Times reports as "intriguing signs of organic compounds in the Martian soil," scientists say the essential component of carbon may have been a castaway from Earth. 

"We have no definitive detection of Martian organics at this point, but we will keep looking in the diverse environments of Gale Crater," SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said in a post on NASA's website

In summary? No signs of life — or that Mars could have ever supported life — on the Red Planet. But we're still looking. 

What do you think about NASA's ongoing mission to analyze soil samples from Mars? Do you think it's a good idea or a waste of time? Do you really care if the planet was ever able to support microbial life? Tell us your thoughts in comments. 

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Michael Robinson December 05, 2012 at 07:01 PM
"You’d think that after all the probes we’ve sent there over the years — [i]ncluding four rovers (two currently operating), we’d know by now. What’s the holdup?" There are only so many scientific experiments a single rover can support. Want to get the answers more quickly? Maybe you could convince congress to give NASA at least a full percent of the federal budget. NASA can barely fund essential experiments around its own planet, much less others.
Deanna Allen December 05, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Thanks for commenting! So you think NASA's experiments are worth the money invested? I've seen some arguments that the funds could be better spent elsewhere besides space. Just curious what your thoughts are.
Michael Robinson December 05, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Mars is like an Earth where a few variables were tweaked early on. It's useful to study for comparison. Same reason we should send more probes to Venus.

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