A member of the Curiosity rover team says interesting features snapped by the rover are probably not traces of microbial life. Last week, I wrote about Nora Noffke’s paper. She’s a geobiologist who spotted some similarities between the picture above and microbial fossils on Earth.
She never said in her paper that those were microbial fossils on Mars. She just noted some peculiar similarities.
Space.com recently talked to a person on the Curiosity rover team. Mission project scientist Ashwin Vasavada says the Curiosity team didn’t think it was caused by microbial life.
“We really didn’t see anything that can’t be explained by natural processes of transporting that sand in water, and the nature of the rocks suggested that it was just a fluvial sandstone,” Vasavada tells Space.com.
“It came down to nothing exceptional, from our point of view, that wasn’t just a consequence of erosion of this sandstone,” he added.
Instead of studying the Gillespie Lake outcropping, the Curiosity team decided to drill in an area known as Sheepbed in the Yellowknife Bay area. That sample was tested by the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument and found the Yellowknife Bay area could have supported microbial life billions of years ago.
The Sheepbed sample also had the first definitive reading of organics.
Vasavada told Space.com, “We feel that choice paid off.”
What Else Has Curiosity Been Up To?
Back in December, Curiosity measured spikes in methane in the atmosphere around it during a 20-month period. During two of those months – late 2013 and early 2014 – Curiosity measured tenfold spikes in Methane.
“This temporary increase in methane — sharply up and then back down — tells us there must be some relatively localized source,” said Sushil Atreya, a member of the Curiosity rover science team. “There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.”
Also, a congratulations is in order for Ashwin Vasavada. Last week, Ashwin was named the new project scientist for the Curiosity rover. Vasavada takes over for John Grotzinger who he praised in a statement.
“John Grotzinger put his heart and soul into Curiosity for seven years, leaving a legacy of success and scientific achievement,” Vasavada said. “Now I look forward to continuing our expedition to Mars’ ancient past, with a healthy rover and a dedicated and passionate international team. And yes, this is all just incredibly cool.”