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NASA admits hiding 'really good' news from Martian soil

Rechecking Curiosity data before historic announcement

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It appears the Curiosity rover on Mars has had some exciting news, but NASA controllers have said that they're keeping quiet about it until the facts have been checked.

"This data is gonna be one for the history books. It's looking really good," John Grotzinger, principal investigator for Curiosity told NPR.

According to Grotzinger, the data comes from the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, which consists of a six-column gas chromatograph, a quadrupole mass spectrometer, and a tunable laser spectrometer. This gives SAM the ability to find organic life, if it exists.

So far Curiosity has done a sample scoop of soil for SAM earlier this month, and NASA announced more samples were going to be taken last week from an area the team have dubbed Rocknest. It appears they have found something very special, but Grotzinger says his lips are sealed.

"We're getting data from SAM as we sit here and speak, and the data looks really interesting," he teased. "The science team is busily chewing away on it as it comes down,"

Part of the caution comes from nearly getting burned in the past, Grotzinger explained. Earlier in the mission, SAM took a sample of the Martian atmosphere and found methane present, which is a good indicator that there was life on Mars, at least at one point.

Rather than splashing the news, the team flushed out the SAM chamber and took more air samples. This time there was no methane, so the team concluded that the methane detected earlier had come from air the instrument had picked up from Earth before leaving.

Space scientists are on tenterhooks for the moment, but the news will not be announced until next month at the earliest. Grotzinger plans to attend the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting on December 3 and will present some results then. ®

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