TECH TALK: Some Curiosity about NASA findings


February 19. 2013 7:28PM
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Scientists can get excited about things the everyday person doesn‚??t care about in the slightest.


When NASA scientists get fired up, however, people sit up and listen. That‚??s what‚??s been happening lately as researchers on NASA‚??s Mars Curiosity team are hinting they have information that is ‚??one for the history books.‚?Ě


As we wait until their findings are released in December, there‚??s a ton of speculation on what the rover has managed to dig up, from what most people would consider mundane ‚?? an unexpected chemical compound ‚?? to the hysterical ‚?? proof of alien bacteria. If I had to guess, I‚??d say the truth lies somewhere in the middle. They might have detected methane production in the Martian soil.


That‚??s more important than it might seem because the most probable source of methane production on Earth involves life ‚?? and in soil samples, it usually indicates micro-organisms are present. But it isn‚??t proof positive, since unusual chemical reactions can produce methane.


I‚??d bet on them turning up methane because that‚??s one of the things they‚??ve been looking for in the soil ‚?? and they‚??ve had false positives before.


Whatever the find, it‚??s got researchers who work on the Curiosity Rover excited ‚?? but then again, these are people who get excited about finding an unexpected type of rock or a nifty new dust particle. For them, those are good reasons to be excited. For the average person, maybe not.


Asked to elaborate on what they‚??ve found, NASA representatives responded by saying the results ‚??won‚??t be earth-shattering, but they will be interesting.‚?Ě


NASA hasn‚??t explicitly confirmed or denied anyone‚??s guesses, which is unusually cagey, but understandable since they‚??ve been burned by making premature announcements in the past.


If they did find evidence of alien amoeba, it might not have a direct impact on your daily life, but it would have profound implications for science, philosophy, religion, and our estimate of just how common life is in the universe.


My money is on methane this time around. It fits with what we know so far. We‚??ll just have to wait until the first week of December to find out for sure.



-Nick DeLorenzo is director of interactive and new media for The Times Leader. E-mail him [email protected].




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