NASA SCIENTISTS searching for life on Mars have made an 'earth-shaking' discovery.
MARS Curiosity Rover, the NASA robot on the Mars's surface which is designed to discover life or the potential for life on the planet's surface, unearthed the evidence by digging up Martian soil and analysing it in an onboard laboratory.
Ahead of the announcement of a 'major discovery' on the red planet Mars Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger said : “This data is gonna be one for the history books. It's looking really good.”
But he refused to be drawn further on the exact details saying the earth-shaking discovery would only be formally revealed in December.
However, industry experts believe the announcement is likely to involve either the discovery of microbe-level life, either now or in the past because the on-board laboratory is designed to spot organic compounds.
The discovery was made by the six-wheeled rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument in the Rocknest area of the Gale Crate, close to where the rover touched down.
SAM is Curiosity's on-board chemistry lab and is able to take a sample of Martian rock, soil or air and find out what it is made of.
It is capable of identifying organic compounds - carbon containing substances that could indicate life.
British astro-engineer Paul Lafey said: “I'm surprised John has let the cat out of the bag but anything which that team describe as earth-shattering can only mean life, the residue of extinct life, or at the very least the potential conditions for life.
“It's very exciting indeed.”
The findings will be revealed at the Autumn meeting of the American Geophysical Union, planned to begin on December 3 in San Francisco, California.
The SAM chemistry lab onboard the Curiosity rover is a powerful set of three instruments that work together to investigate the chemistry of the Martian surface and atmosphere within Gale Crater.
The instrument's measurements will help scientists assess whether Mars could support and preserve evidence of microbial life, either now or at some time in its past.
Curiosity landed inside a giant impact crater near the Martian equator in August for a two-year, $2.5-billion mission, NASA's first astrobiology expedition since the Seventies-era Viking probes.
The rover has already collected several soil samples of Martian sand and dust from the Rocknest site, with its Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument discovering it bears a remarkable resemblance to Hawaii's volcanic sand.
That instrument used an X-ray imager to reveal the atomic structures of crystals in the Martian soil, the first time the technology, known as X-ray diffraction, has been used to analyse soil beyond Earth.