A panoramic view of the area of Mars where Curiosity is working. The site is called “Rocknest” (Pic: NASA)
Perhaps realizing that people are expecting it to produce a high definition video of a Martian movie star emerging from a hip nightclub after a night of revelry with other Martians, NASA has made the following clarification in time for its news conference tomorrow.
“Rumors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect. The news conference will be an update about first use of the rover’s full array of analytical instruments to investigate a drift of sandy soil. One class of substances Curiosity is checking for is organic compounds — carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life. At this point in the mission, the instruments on the rover have not detected any definitive evidence of Martian organics,” NASA said on November 29.
Expectations were aroused (Can expectations be aroused? But let’s go with it because it sounds nice) when Joe Palca of the National Public Radio (NPR) was told by the mission’s principal investigator John Grotzinger, "We’re getting data from SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) as we sit here and speak, and the data looks really interesting…This data is gonna be one for the history books. It’s looking really good.”
I am not sure if NASA’s studied damper has been prompted by a surge of excitement that its Curiosity mission may have caught Martian celebrities the way TMZ catches Hollywood types closer home in Los Angeles after Grotzinger’s comments to NPR. The point is we did not speculate or rumor-monger about “major new findings.” It came from a scientist who is the mission’s principal investigator who was quoted as saying, “This data is gonna be one for the history books.”
In his defense though he has not even remotely implied that what they may have found constitutes organics but when the principal investigator of a $2.5 billion mission about a planet on which generations of humans have been dying to have some form of life says what he did, it does arouse expectations. Nerds were aroused the way non-nerdy men are when they see Victoria’s Secret catalogue. It is just that the nerdy arousal often tends to be more cerebral than penile. It is not my case that nerds do not get aroused there but I am just making a point.
Coming back to Martian organics, we will find out tomorrow morning what it is that NASA may have found, if anything. There is no point speculating what it might be but whatever it is, it better be for “for the history books” as Grotzinger said. Otherwise nerds will experience their version of sudden flaccidity.
For me personally, anything and everything that has happened during the run-up, launch, journey, landing and continuing exploration of the Curiosity mission is for the history books. Whether we find life is secondary to me because a)We have quite enough of that on Earth and b) It would be way more fascinating if such an incomprehensibly massive universe is essentially barren.
So until tomorrow then.