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Too soon to declare 'life' on Mars, NASA says

  • nasa curiosity on mars illo.jpg

    This artist's concept features NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or present ability to sustain microbial life. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

  • Mars panorama nov. 2012.jpg

    This panorama is a mosaic of images taken by the Mast Camera on the NASA Mars rover Curiosity while the rover was working at a site called "Rocknest" in October and November 2012. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems)

  • curiosity-funnel-covers

    Camera onboard Curiosity shows the covers in place over two sample inlet funnels of the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite. Curiosity delivered SAM's first soil sample on the day this image was taken, the 93rd Martian day, o (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

If there are little green men on Mars, they haven’t shown up yet.

NASA has quelled rumors that a “major discovery” from the latest robotic probe on the Red planet was some form of indication of life. If there’s anything out there, we haven’t seen it yet, the agency said.

“At this point in the mission, the instruments on the rover have not detected any definitive evidence of Martian organics,” the space agency said in a press release issued by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a California division responsible for the Curiosity probe.

'Instruments on the rover have not detected any definitive evidence of Martian organics.'

- NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory statement

The speculation began on Nov. 20, when Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger of Caltech in Pasadena told NPR “this data is gonna be one for the history books.” Grotzinger works on a team studying data from the rover’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, an onboard chemistry lab able to identify organic compounds -- carbon-based molecules that are essentially the building blocks of life.

Grotzinger’s enthusiasm led to wildly overblown speculation that such compounds -- as well as biological compounds, little green men, and even Jimmy Hoffa -- had been found.

“Rumors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect,” the JPL statement says. “The news conference will be an update about first use of the rover's full array of analytical instruments to investigate a drift of sandy soil,” an important but far less eye catching report.

Other scientists have already made efforts to end speculation, declaring emphatically that the findings will not be "proof" of life on Mars. 

"This is going to be a disappointment," said Chris McKay, a NASA space scientist at Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. "The press description of the

SAM results as 'earthshaking' is, in my view, an unfortunate exaggeration. We have not (yet) found anything in SAM that was not already known from previous missions: Phoenix and Viking," he told Space.com.

Curiosity’s SAM tool is also studying the air on Mars in hopes of detecting methane, something produced by many organisms on Earth. The robot has found no definitive evidence of the gas yet either.

The Mars Science Laboratory Project and its Curiosity rover are less than four months into a two-year prime mission to investigate whether conditions in Mars' Gale Crater may have been favorable for microbial life.

Curiosity is exceeding all expectations for a new mission with all of the instruments and measurement systems performing well, NASA says.

The mission already has found an ancient riverbed on the Red Planet, and there is every expectation for remarkable discoveries still to come.

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