NASA rover may have made a discovery 'for the history books'

Scientists reportedly trying to confirm Curiositys findings before releasing details

NASA scientists may be holding onto a "really interesting" discovery on Mars that could be historic.

John Grotzinger, NASA's principal investigator for the Mars rover Curiosity mission, said last week that the agency is getting exciting results from the rover's SAM instrument, which is an onboard chemistry lab, according to a report on NPR.org.

The space agency isn't releasing any details about its big news yet, pending confirmation.

"We're getting data from SAM as we sit here and speak, and the data looks really interesting," Grotzinger told NPR. "This data is gonna be one for the history books. It's looking really good."

He also said at the time that it may be several weeks before NASA officials are ready to release the information.

NASA did not immediately respond to a request for more information.

Curiosity, which landed on Mars in August, is on what scientists hope will be a two-year mission to find out whether the Red Planet has -- or ever had -- what it takes to support life, even in a microbial form. The rover also will look for signs that Mars could one day be made habitable for humans.

In September, the nuclear-powered, SUV-sized super rover found evidence of a "vigorous" thousand-year water flow on the surface of Mars. It was Curiosity's first major finding, since water is one of the key elements needed to support life.

NASA scientists said the evidence came in the form of an outcropping of rocks that appears to have been heaved up and covered with stream bed gravel. It's a rock formation that was formed by a very strong water flow.

This, however, wasn't the first time NASA has reported evidence of water on Mars.

Just over a year ago, NASA announced that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter had taken images showing evidence of past water flows on the Martian surface. NASA scientists said the planet might hold frozen water just beneath its surface.

Curiosity, which weighs nearly 2,000 pounds and carries 17 cameras and 10 scientific instruments, has two computers and four processors onboard.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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