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It could be one of the most important discoveries in the history of NASA.
U.S. space agency officials reportedly are planning to announce a “major” discovery in December, leading to speculation that some form of life may have been discovered on Mars.
“This data is gonna be one for the history books,” NASA’s Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, told NPR on Tuesday, sparking speculation among the astronomy community. “It’s looking really good.”
It remains unclear what exactly NASA officials have discovered on the Red Planet. The discovery is reportedly the result of recent research conducted on Mars by Curiosity. The rover has spent the last several weeks roaming the planet in an effort to collect samples of soil and study the martian atmosphere. Speaking earlier this week NASA officials said the data collected during one of these missions led to the discovery.
“We’re getting data from SAM as we sit here and speak, and the data looks really interesting,” Mr. Grotzinger notes. “The science team is busily chewing away on it as it comes down.”
Over the coming weeks, NASA scientists will reportedly study the data in an effort to pin down the exact finding, according to various reports. The announcement comes just weeks after NASA said they have yet to find evidence that the planet most like Earth in the solar system has methane, a gas tied to biological processes.
That said, it has been noted that the discovery could relate to an earlier mission aimed at measuring radiation levels on the planet. Researchers announced earlier this month that data collected during a mission yielded surprising results, including the potential detection of methane. Using the car-sized mobile laboratory, NASA researchers said at the time that they had identified transient whirlwinds, mapped winds in relation to slopes, tracked daily and seasonal changes in air pressure, and linked rhythmic changes in radiation to daily atmospheric changes. The knowledge gained about these processes could have provided scientists with evidence about environmental changes on Mars that might have led to conditions favorable for life.
In between now and then, the rover is expected to continue its mission. During a Thanksgiving break, the team will use Curiosity’s Mast Camera (Mastcam) from Point Lake to examine possible routes and targets to the east. A priority is to choose a rock for the first use of the rover’s hammering drill, which will collect samples of powder from rock interiors, according to researchers.
The $2.5 billion Curiosity rover landed inside Mars’ Gale Crater in early August. During a two-year prime mission, researchers will use Curiosity’s ten instruments to assess whether the study area ever has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. The mission is seen as a key test for studying whether a manned mission to the planet is possible.