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Curiosity: Still no sign of life on the Red Planet


Staff writers
December 3, 2012 — Curiosity scans a soil sample from the surface of Mars for the first time, yielding valuable data but no trace of the organic compounds that would indicate life.


NASA scooped a soil sample, baked it in a small on-board oven, then analysed the gases given off. Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
NASA scooped a soil sample, baked it in a small on-board oven, then analysed the gases given off. Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Yet another scan for signs of life of on Mars has come up with no results.

NASA announced Monday that the high-tech Curiosity Rover's first test of the Martian soil turned up traces of water, sulfur and chlorine -- but no organic compounds, an indicator of life.

"We have no definitive detection of Martian organics at this point, but we will keep looking in the diverse environments of Gale Crater," Paul Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Centre said in a release.

Mahaffy was referring to the Gale Crater near the Martian equator where Curiosity has been doing its work.

The rover scoops soil samples into its on-board laboratory, where they are heated in a tiny oven. Instruments then scan gases given off by the sand.

The rover did find a simple carbon compound, but NASA says it's not sure if it originated on the Red Planet.

This was the first time Curiosity has actually analysed the Martian soil.

A test of air samples gathered at the site a month ago was another disappointment for scientists seeking signs of life: It found no traces of methane, which on Earth is mostly given off by organic life.

Still, even though the search for definitive signs of life has been fruitless, it will continue.

NASA says the successful soil analysis means the rover's instruments are working as planned.

Curiosity is gradually inching its way toward nearby Mount Sharp, a five-kilometre-high mountain rising from the crater floor, where NASA thinks there's a good chance of finding complex carbon.

However, the rover won't reach it until early next year.

With files from the Associated Press.

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