Update: NASA isn’t saying what it is, still. But they have scheduled a presser for 3 Dec. Talk about firing up the rumor mill. By then Fox News will probably have a graphic up showing Obama-esque Martians coming for your guns.
Is this it? We don’t know. No one’s saying what it is outside of the instrument that reported the find:
NPR— The exciting results are coming from an instrument in the rover called SAM. “We’re getting data from SAM as we sit here and speak, and the data looks really interesting,” John Grotzinger, the principal investigator for the rover mission, says during my visit last week to his office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. That’s where data from SAM first arrive on Earth. “The science team is busily chewing away on it as it comes down,” says Grotzinger. SAM is a kind of miniature chemistry lab. Put a sample of Martian soil or rock or even air inside SAM, and it will tell you what the sample is made of.
Grotzinger says they recently put a soil sample in SAM, and the analysis shows something earthshaking. “This data is gonna be one for the history books. It’s looking really good,” he says.
Grotzinger can see the pained look on my face as I wait, hoping he’ll tell me what the heck he’s found, but he’s not providing any more information. So why doesn’t Grotzinger want to share his exciting news? The main reason is caution. Grotzinger and his team were almost stung once before. When SAM analyzed an air sample, it looked like there was methane in it, and at least here on Earth, some methane comes from living organisms.
But Grotzinger says they held up announcing the finding because they wanted to be sure they were measuring Martian air, and not air brought along from the rover’s launchpad at Cape Canaveral.
Gentle readers I have tried my best for two days to get some clarity on this and failed. Too many people are out for the holidays and the others aren’t talking. The closest I’ve come to a good source volunteering anything is a “chemical[s] associated with some bacteria”. That’s all folks.
Speculation update: the rover and the suite of instruments involved referred to collectively as the Sample Analysis at Mars or SAM, are specifically designed to analyze soil chemistry. Ergo it makes sense to assume a substance or substances have been found in the soil that are in some way associated with living things. Speculation now rampant and completely untrustworthy seems to be leaning toward methane compounds correlated to archaea. But it could be a false positive — wouldn’t be the first time — or a completely humdrum source for the substance, etc.