Edit: Updated to link to webcast of conference. Another edit will comment on the results.
Edit: Actually it’s live on http://www.ustream.tv/NASAJPL
Edit: The audio got a bit garbled toward the end as the number of online watchers soared, but I got most of it, and it was a very interesting conference. Be sure to track down a transcript of the whole thing.
Dr. Grotzinger came last and said, among other things, “Curiosity’s middle name is patience, and we all have to have a healthy dose of that.” He explained that they were really looking for a “garden variety” sample of typical soil on which they could do the first legitimate analysis of the surface of Mars using “virtually all” of the instruments in the rover. This, he said (without making reference to the earlier press controversy) makes it “one for the history books.” They were delighted to find “a globally representative” material on Mars that also turned out to be “a rich repository of environmental history” there. “Every occurrence is a major discovery,” he said.
One of the findings, per Dr. Mahaffy, was that although they have found chlorinated hydrocarbons, organic material falls onto the surface of all objects like this because of what Dr. Grotzinger called “radiation flux,” and it might be that rather than organic Martian material – or it could be contamination from Earth. Mahaffy therefore had to say the team so far has found “no definitive detection to report of organic compounds,” and the situation will likely stay that way until they find a more protected area to study. Grotzinger pointed out that the site they chose to study is exposed to Mars’ harsh environment (including cosmic rays), and apparently has been for a long time, so even if there once had been Martian organics there, they would probably have disappeared by now. Any biological discoveries, if any, he noted, are “well down the road” at this point.
Wrapping things up, Grotzinger said, “Our car is ready to go.” They’ll soon be heading for Mt. Sharp, now that their “three months of tension” are completed and they have checked to make sure the vehicle is working as planned.
Be sure to read the whole transcript. It is really amazing what they’ve got up there and how well it is working. All of us could appreciate how they nailed the landing on the planet, but there is so much more, equally important but far less visually stimulating stuff happening with Curiosity.
As for the controversy, well, I hope all concerned weather it as well as the scientists have. In my Cracked supervolcano article, there was one fact that many readers thought was a goof (that Peter Jackson had filmed Mount Doom on Ruapehu volcano) but was actually true (I suspect the Cracked editors checked that out with their Hollywood contacts as it was later clarified in the comments by an anonymous guest – Jackson filmed the closeups there, and the vista shots were of Ngauruhoe). I felt terrible until realizing it was correct after all. My heart goes out to the science writer who did the original story – the Curiosity mission is an extremely complex thing to understand, and then there are editors after you submit your story. I can see now how easily a misunderstanding could happen.
Anyway, onward and upward to Mt. Sharp!