Curiosity’s Discovery of Carbon, Chlorine on Mars a Critical First Step To Determining Origin of “Organic” Material on Mars

December, 3, 2012: Beverly, Massachusetts:

Earlier today, NASA announced the first results from the SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) on the Curiosity rover on Mars.  While organic compounds were found in this soil sample, the NASA investigators are not yet sure whether these are organics were formed on Mars. According to SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., “We have no definitive detection of Martian organics at this point, but we will keep looking in the diverse environments of Gale Crater.”

“Those of us who have conducted missions in extreme environments – looking for evidence of living organisms where life is very scant – can totally appreciate the challenges that the MSL scientists are presented with in interpreting the SAM data that point to detection of organic compounds,” said Dr. Steve McDaniel, biochemist and board member of Explore Mars.  “Having said that, even where it is very difficult to detect life, with the evidence we already have about Mars, including the Viking data, ALH84001, seasonal methane plumes, ample water and other facts, it might be more scientifically prudent at this point to modify our working hypothesis from a negative slant to a positive slant and continue our experiments accordingly.”

Curiosity will continue its progress toward Mount Sharp in Gale Crater over the upcoming months where it will be able to observe geological features on Mars that have never been observed before. The Curiosity team considers the base of Mount Sharp to be an extremely good location to investigate possible evidence of past or present Martian life.

Artemis Westenberg, President of Explore Mars stated, “The organic compounds that SAM measured could be something we took with us from Earth, they could be something that rained down from Outer Space onto Mars (Panspermia), or they could have formed on Mars itself.  I am hopeful that the latter will turn out to have been the case, but we have to be patient to hear what the Curiosity mission will bring us next.”

Explore Mars will be monitoring this mission closely and will be conducting a series of articles and programs discussing Curiosity and other Mars related topics leading up to the Humans to Mars Summit in May 2013 in Washington, DC (

Explore Mars was created to advance the goal of sending humans to Mars within the next two decades. To further that goal, Explore Mars conducts programs and technical challenges to stimulate the development and/or improvement of technologies that will make human Mars missions more efficient and feasible. In addition, to embed the idea of Mars as a habitable planet, Explore Mars challenges educators to use Mars in the classroom as a tool to teach standard STEM curricula.

Explore Mars, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation organized in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Donations to Explore Mars are tax-deductible. You can Contact us using our website or at the email .

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