Well, whatever this very weird episode was really about, it’s over. JPL issued a press release about its upcoming news conference yesterday:
Rumors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect. 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. One class of substances Curiosity is checking for is organic compounds — carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life. At this point in the mission, the instruments on the rover have not detected any definitive evidence of Martian organics.
As a reminder, here’s the relevant part of the original story by Joe Palca, one edition of which I linked to in my first post on this:
The exciting results are coming from an instrument in the rover called SAM. “We’re getting data from SAM as we sit here and speak, and the data looks really interesting,” John Grotzinger, the principal investigator for the rover mission, says during my visit last week to his office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. That’s where data from SAM first arrive on Earth. “The science team is busily chewing away on it as it comes down,” says Grotzinger.
Why couldn’t JPL just issue their statement after that, if the science team wasn’t having an early Thanksgiving on the SAM data?
It’s a little weird. On the other hand, the original story did just come from Joe Palca, reportedly a respected science writer, but still, these days, it’s rare for just one person to get a big scoop like that. Was it all just a misunderstanding?
Guess we’ll have to leave it to the history books to figure out exactly what happened in this little drama.