NASA downplays still-unannounced findings from Mars

Just before Thanksgiving, the lead mission scientist for the Curiosity rover told NPR that his team had found something that would "be one for the history books." Naturally, we all began speculating about the presence of life, giant obelisks, and half-buried Statues of Liberty. Yesterday, however, a different NASA spokesman basically asked the world to not get its hopes up too high, revising the level of importance down from "earthshaking" to "interesting". So far, nobody has said what, exactly, was discovered. (Via Colin Schultz)


  1. Best guess:  They found interesting organic compounds.  (Organic not as in “life”, but as in “containing carbon atoms.”)

    1. Something tells me it won’t even be that interesting.  I can’t shake the feeling that it’ll be (yet another) announcement that they’ve found evidence for liquid water on Mars in the past.

      1. They may have found something else:
        July 30, 1975 – Jimmy Hoffa disappears.
        August 20, 1975 – Viking 1 is launched to Mars.

    2. In this article, the speculation from some scientists not involved in the mission is that it’ll be “simple” organic compounds rather than “complex” ones–simple organic molecules are already known to exist in asteroids, and I believe the nonbiological processes that produce them are already known (but it is speculated that it was crucial to the origin of life on Earth that the planet had been “seeded” with organic molecules from meteors).

  2. Darn it.  I was actually looking forward to this announcement.  Please, pretty please, let this be a case of them wanting to be very conservative in their initial public claims, but secretly they’re dancing around and planning their award-acceptance speeches.

    1. Me too.  Absent intercepting gossip from the countless who already know what’s up, perhaps the venue for the announcement is a clue where it lies on the scale of amazement… and whether there’s a simultaneous publication.

      Nobel-worthy scientific announcements could certainly be first disclosed at the AGU, but something with the impact of a fundamental existential revelation we might be hoping for, it would probably be made at a NASA site, if not in D.C.

      It could still be something pretty astounding given the precise language of what we’re interpreting as downplaying… many of the references used would be interpreted differently by those who know details of prior missions than by a general audience.

      When they say “nothing that Viking didn’t discover”, remember that the results from the Viking experiments are still quite controversial:

      It could still be “earthshaking”… people seem to be bringing up Gilbert Levin’s name in interviews. Levin has always maintained that his Labeled Release experiment on Viking 1 was successful in detecting living microbes.

      Chris McKay, one of those close to the project who are being quoted as saying “nothing Viking didn’t already discover” has published his own analysis of the Viking results:
      “Reanalysis of the Viking results suggests perchlorate and organics at midlatitudes on Mars”

  3. Cold fusion?
    A missing sock?

    My guess is still the same: likely elements that could potentially indicate a possible life maybe existing on Mars, or crashed there. I was disappointed to hear they were even going to attempt this testing in the first place because I don’t understand what it will benefit except for the science vs religion debate on the cover of time magazine and endless amounts of agendized message boards.

    1. The reason behind that is that they want to actually double and triple-check the data before they start talking about it. That part is reasonable. It would be a lot more annoying if they announced something and then, a week later, were like, “Oh, wait. Nevermind.” 

      The problem here is that they’re simultaneously trying to do the responsible thing, outlined above, and talk up the discovery in an irresponsible way. Which is, yes, incredibly obnoxious. 

      1.  They’re playing the “hype game” because it’s so darn easy (that is, so many people play along) and it gets them attention.  The responsible response to the pre-announcement was “wake me up when you have something to say.”

      2. To be fair, the article suggests that the “Earthshaking” comment was a spontaneous one Grotzninger made when he was getting his first look at the data and happened to be with a reporter at the time:

        “Nevertheless, the most current cause of excitement began when Curiosity mission lead scientist John Grotzninger began receiving data on his computer from the rover’s on-board chemistry lab, called SAM, while he was with a reporter from National Public Radio.”

    2.  Perhaps it was put out that way, just to insure that people remember that NASA is still doing serious work that deserves funding, being that discussions about the US federal budget are starting to swing around.   As a scientifically-minded person, I don’t mind the delay as they verify the results.  But as a government employee, I get the feeling that they want to make sure they’re in the running for federal dollars when people are yammering and jawing about cutting agency budgets.

    1. That might or might not be a magnetic anomaly.

      Pity it’s nowhere near the tharsis bulge otherwise I’d speculate on some really really interesting stuff bening found waiting just under the thin layer of dirt.

  4. uh,
    Tommy, go ahead and move the big ‘Importance’ slider down from ‘Earthshaking’ to ‘Interesting’.
    That’s right Tommy, go ahead and just skip right past ‘Mind-Blowing’  and ‘Awe-Inspiring’, right on through to.. that’s it Tommy thank you.

  5. It’ll be something like simple organics or more evidence of flowing water a million years ago…no one will be surprised, and the average person will think “NASA is wasting money and hyping nothingburger results”…just what NASA needs.

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