On November 20, 2012 John Grotzinger, the principal investigator for the Curiosity rover mission, made an announcement on NPR that has spread across the web like wildfire.
According to Grotzinger, the rover made a discovery “for the history books,” but he is remaining on the secretive side as to what that discovery entails.
This very public, but very vague announcement has many speculating about what the rover has discovered, along with what implications that discovery may hold for us here on Earth. Ever since Grotzinger’s announcement, people have hit the web looking for clues as to what the Curiosity rover might have found on Mars.
Such an announcement immediately throws the imagination into overdrive, and the first thing people tend to speculate about is life on the Red Planet.
Upon hearing the announcement, many web surfers speculated that the find was some sort of living organism. However, if it was a living organism, it would have to be very tiny; maybe even microscopic. It must be tiny because the discovery was made with Curiosity’s Sample Analysis on Mars (SAM).
SAM is the rover’s onboard laboratory that was designed to find the building blocks for life. Therefore, if it is an organism, it is more likely to be a bacterium of some sort and nothing like the denizens of the John Carter film. Nevertheless, a Martian bacterium would certainly be one for the history books.
Announcement Unlikely to Be About Life on Mars
Unfortunately, SAM was not designed to directly detect life on Mars. Therefore, bacteria, or any other microbial life, is highly unlikely to be the subject of the announcement.
However, SAM is equipped to detect the “building blocks” of life. These blocks are the elements hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon. SAM’s main focus is on carbon.
In particular, carbon-containing compounds better known as organic molecules. Keep in mind that these materials can exist without the presence of life, but they are the best indicators that life exists or at least once existed. So it most likely that the find could be one of these building blocks, hinting at the fact that life could have existed on Mars at some point.
However, when the Internet is involved, many chose to ignore the most likely cause and usually jump to the most fantastic.
One of these fantastic theories theories being tossed around is that of an archaeological discovery. This is a throwback from a picture snapped by the rover that depicts something metallic buried in the soil that appeared to be made by something other than natural environmental processes.
Such a find would seem to hint at the idea that some sort of civilization existed on Mars at some point, but has since gone extinct.
Ancient Mars Civilization
However, the idea of an ancient Mars civilization is the least likely scenario. A more probable idea is that the artifact is man-made. Chances are that this “artifact” fell from some other satellite that is currently orbiting the red planet, or even from the rover itself. Nevertheless, the rumor of the Martian artifact continues to circulate around the web.
The truth is that NASA is being extremely tight-lipped about their discovery. It seems that they are conducting as many tests as they can to make sure of their findings prior to releasing it to the public. These tests are probably to avoid any embarrassing announcements that might be proved false at a later time. NASA has had their fair share of these failed announcements.
Unfortunately, we will not know exactly what Curiosity discovered on Mars until NASA finally releases that information to the public in the coming weeks. However, taking into consideration the rover’s equipment and what it is designed to find, the most plausible scenario is that the rover has in fact found one or more of the basic building blocks of life, which would mean that life could have existed on Mars, but not necessarily that it did or does exist.