Astrogeology Science Center

Sol 210 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Clay Minerals

14 March 2013

I'm SOWG Chair again today, but because anomaly recovery continues we are not planning science activities. So I was able to watch the MSL press conference at NASA Headquarters this morning, during which the discovery of clay minerals and possible organic material in the first drill sample was announced. The mineralogy and chemistry of the sample indicates that the environment was more habitable than in other locations on Mars. The water was less acidic than the fluids that formed the sulfate-rich rocks analyzed by the MER rovers, and therefore more conducive to any organisms that may have been there. As pointed out during the press briefing, MSL was never intended to detect life, but has achieved one of the main goals of the mission, to determine whether the ancient environment could have supported life. Because the organic material found by SAM could have been brought from Earth, another drill sample should be acquired and processed to confirm that it is Martian. The first drilling and sample handling should have removed most of whatever terrestrial contamination remains on the drill and other hardware, so future samples should not be contaminated. Of course, the MSL team is very excited about these new results!