Gallery: Images of Mars from the Curiosity rover
The Curiosity rover may have found organic compounds on Mars, Jet Propulsion Laboratory director Charles Elachi told conference attendees in Rome on Wednesday, according to multiple reports.
"Perhaps Curiosity has found simple organic molecules," Elachi said at La Sapienza University, according to La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno. "It's preliminary data that must be checked (on) organic, not biological, molecules."
The statement figures to set off a new round of speculation and excitement about the possibility of life on Mars, although JPL representatives maintain that no major announcements are forthcoming.
Earlier this month, Curiosity project scientist John Grotzinger told NPR that recent data would be "one for the history books."
It caused a furor of speculation about the mystery news, with most educated guesses pointing to organic compounds as a possible finding. Organic compounds contain carbon, an essential element for life, and are Curiosity's primary goal as a clue that molecular life might have existed on Mars millions of years ago.
However, JPL has since said that Grotzinger's statement was meant to describe the mission as a whole, not a specific finding.
The next Curiosity press conference is set for Monday in San Francisco.
"There's not going to be any earth-shaking news on Monday," JPL spokesman Guy Webster said.