Mars Rover Curiosity Update Kicks Off Space News Week

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Mars Rover Curiosity Update Kicks Off Space News Week
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This panorama is a mosaic of images taken by the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity …

SAN FRANCISCO — Space news fans have plenty to get excited about this week, beginning with a discussion of the latest findings from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity today (Dec. 3).

The Curiosity rover update is the first press conference scheduled here during the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), a huge gathering of Earth scientists, space scientists, students, educators and exhibitors this week. The conference begins today and ends Friday (Dec. 7).

You can watch the Mars rover briefing live here at 12 p.m. EST (1700 GMT) via SPACE.com's webcast feed.

Last year, more than 20,000 people attended the fall meeting, which featured more than 6,000 oral presentations and 12,000 posters, according to the AGU website.

The 2012 edition should be similarly huge and action-packed. Its many multi-presentation sessions include three separate rounds on "Planetary Evolution and the Fate of Planetary Habitability" and four about "Planetary Atmospheres and Evolution" — and that's just on Monday. [Top 5 Potentially Habitable Alien Planets]

Many AGU presentations will discuss new discoveries by NASA spacecraft and rovers. Indeed, the agency has seven press conferences lined up this week, all of them on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.

The first, slated for 12 p.m. EST today, will be given by the Curiosity team, including mission chief scientist John Grotzinger, a geologist at Caltech in Pasadena.

Many people have been looking forward to the Curiosity press conference, as rumors have swirled in the last two weeks that the 1-ton rover may have found organic compounds — the building blocks of life as we know it — on the surface of Mars.

But NASA officials say such speculation is inaccurate, and that Monday's event will be more of a straightforward progress report.

"Rumors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect," officials at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, which manages Curiosity's mission, wrote in a Nov. 29 update. "The news conference will be an update about first use of the rover's full array of analytical instruments to investigate a drift of sandy soil."

Other NASA press conferences at AGU this week focus on the Voyager mission, whose twin spacecraft are nearing the edge of the solar system; the Van Allen Probes, which launched in August to study Earth's radiation belts; the latest findings from the Mars rover Opportunity, which has been exploring the Red Planet for nearly nine years; and the first science results from the Grail moon-gravity-mapping mission.

Another NASA press briefing will discuss potential changes in U.S. wildfire activity over the next few decades, while yet another one will present a highly detailed cloud-free image of the entire Earth at night captured by the Suomi NPP satellite, which is a joint effort of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

To learn more about AGU's 2012 fall meeting — including how to watch some of the sessions and featured talks live online — check out the conference's website.

Follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+

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