We told you it was coming and here it is: NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has used its full array of instruments to analyze Martian soil for the first time, and found a complex chemistry there, including water, sulfur and chlorine-containing substances, some of which could indicate there may be primitive life there (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show). The composition is about half common volcanic minerals and half non-crystalline materials such as glass.
The soil sample came from a drift of windblown dust and sand called "Rocknest." It was studied by an analytical laboratory inside the rover called SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars). The question is, did Curiosity bring some of these with it from Earth?
SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy says, "We have no definitive detection of Martian organics at this point, but we will keep looking in the diverse environments of Gale Crater." In other words, they will take more samples in other places on nearby. Curiosity's team selected Rocknest as the first scooping site because it has fine sand particles suited for scrubbing interior surfaces of the arm's sample-handling chambers.
Researcher Ken Edgett says, "Active drifts on Mars look darker on the surface. This is an older drift that has had time to be inactive, letting the crust form and dust accumulate on it."
Will evidence of life be found? The report issued today makes it more likely than it has ever been, and analysis of the Rocknest material has not yet been completed.