It seems NASA and the Curiosity rover have found something exciting and nerd-tastic on Mars, but the space agency's scientists are holding back for now, despite how painful it appears to be for them.
NPR science correspondent Joe Palca happened to be in the room recently when John Grotzinger, lead scientist for the Curiosity mission at NASA, started receiving data on his computer from the rover's on-board chemistry lab, also known as SAM (sample analysis at Mars). SAM and NASA scientists on Earth have been busy analyzing a sample of Martian soil of late, and apparently the dirt from the Red Planet has a secret to tell.
"This data is going to be one for the history books, it's looking really good," Grotzinger said in the story that aired yesterday.
And that's about all he said.
Grotzinger and NASA have remained mum on what exactly Curiosity may have found in the Martian soil, saying it could be several more weeks until they're able to verify the data. The scientists need to make sure whatever earth-shattering find they have isn't an error or perhaps some kind of stowaway molecule or whatever it may be that hitched one really long ride from Earth.
So I contacted another space smarty-pants type not associated with NASA to see if he might have a guess.
Lewis Dartnell is a leading astrobiologist at The Centre For Planetary Sciences at UCL/Birkbeck in London. He makes it clear that with so little to go on, no one outside of NASA can know what the agency thinks it has, but, he says, "the SAM instrument is designed to detect organic molecules on Mars, so the smart money is on an announcement along those lines."
That's right, the smart money is on what we all were already thinking -- LIFE ON MARS.
The seas may be rising and more superstorms may continue to threaten humanity's most important megalopolises, but there could soon be an emerging market for condominiums on Mars to take our minds off of such challenges.
What do you think NASA's found on the fourth rock from the sun? Let us know in the comments. Or just tell us you know what it is, but then don't really tell us until next month.