NASA makes discovery on Mars

Three bite marks left in the Martian ground by the scoop on the robotic arm of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity are pictured in this October 15, 2012 NASA handout photo.

Though today’s NASA Mars Curiosity rover announcement wasn’t about extraterrestrial life, scientists were excited to share that soil analysis from the red planet has revealed interesting results.

An analytical laboratory inside the rover’s arm determined that soil samples from “Rocknest” inside the Gale Crater contained high levels of water, salts, sulfur and chlorine-containing substances.  This evidence shows that there is an even higher possibility that there was water once on the planet.

“We have no definitive detection of Martian organics at this point, but we will keep looking in the diverse environments of Gale Crater,” said SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

What makes scientists so excited about this discovery is that water is known to be an essential ingredient for life, according to Dr. Nilton O. Renno, a professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space science at the University of Michigan. Renno was previously involved with the prior Mars rover mission, Phoenix.

“Everywhere we have water, we have bacteria,” Renno said. “If you are going to look for life on another planet, the first thing you have to do is look for water.”

Renno explained that the Martian soil contained high levels of volatiles, which turn into water vapor, chlorine and oxygen that are released from the soil when it is heated. The levels of salts found also suggested that there was more water on the planet once than scientists initially suspected.

Previous orbiters have shown evidence that there was water on Mars that may have placed a role in forming local features. Coupled with today’s announcement, it makes it more likely that there was a stream once in the place where the rover landed.

“The more we look at Mars, the more interesting it gets to be,” he said.


Curiosity’s main mission is to study whether the red planet is habitable, and most of the tools on the rover  — including the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite and the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument used to determine today’s findings — are there to help reach that goal. It’s not really equipped to find extra terrestrial life, but rather to see if the Red Planet could support life, Renno explained.

There’s also a high possibility that any bacteria found by or on the machine could have come from our own planet. Renno said that it could take quite some time to analyze anything found so see if it is extraterrestrial, meaning we won’t probably get the results while the rover is still on Mars.

“We really have to be sure that anything we found is not contamination from things we took from Earth,” Renno said. “We want to be sure what we find is something from Mars, and we clearly understand what we find in the data.”


Bloomberg launches $50 million anti-gun violence effort

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to spend $50 million on a grassroots anti-gun violence network to challenge the National Rifle Association.


East Village woman fights off rape attempt from…

An East Village woman fought off an attempted rapist that she woke to find standing on her bed over the weekend, police said.


Nearly 300 missing after South Korean ferry capsizes

Almost 300 people were missing after a ferry capsized off South Korea Wednesday, in what could be the country's biggest maritime disaster in over 20 years.


Police look for man suspected of threatening Muslim…

Police seek man suspected of calling a teen Muslim girl a "terrorist" and spitting on her multiple times while on a Queens bus.

The Word

Jenny McCarthy and Donnie Wahlberg are engaged

If Donnie Wahlberg wants to get vaccinated against anything, he should do it soon: he and Jenny McCarthy are engaged, she just announced on "The View."


TV watch list, Wednesday, April 16: 'The Americans,'…

'The Americans' Philip and Elizabeth face "painful turns" in their missions. Maybe next week they'll have a nice easy mission with no moral ambiguity? Probably…


Curtain raiser: The Tribeca Film Festival arrives this…

The Tribeca Film Festival begins its two-week run in Lower Manhattan on Thursday, boasting dozens and dozens of films of all stripes.


Review: 'Bears' is a cute Disney doc about…

Disney's latest nature doc, "Bears," doesn't completely shy away from the fact that its subjects would devour you (or eachother) if they had the chance.


Islanders back to rebuilding mode after disappointing season

One season after qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2006-07, the Islanders finished 2013-14 with a 34-37-11 record.


Jets confident despite Chris Johnson leaving with no…

Jets fans clamored for a playmaker on offense all offseason. It looked like they were going to land that player on Tuesday when Chris Johnson…


Knicks, Nets rivalry never materialized despite national attention

When the NBA schedule was released, the league anticipated an intense rivalry between the Nets and Knicks with all four games slated for national TV.


NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could…

NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could the Mavericks surprise?


Could a facelift give you the edge at…

It's not just women lining up for procedures.


Steal home decorating tips from Nattystyle blogger Natalie…

Despite the towering ceilings and enviable exposed brick, it’s easy to see how Natalie Decleve’s apartment could be considered a challenge. Perched above the streets…


How to plant a garden in the city

Small on space but big on gardening? You can still have that welcoming oasis of fresh air with an urban garden. Peter Smith, owner of…


Personalize your massage at a private practice

CityTouch customizes spa treatments to meet client's needs.