and Hort; re. your reply #11,
6. Will the various experiments on board reveal anything we do know or not know?
I think that the official results have already revealed results that question several currently accepted theories on Mars.
a) The superoxide explanation for the Levin Results is already in the balance from the first wet chemistry results. If that is so, it lets back in the distinct possibility that Viking did indeed find life a few decades ago.
b) I agree with hort that the wet chemistry results also suggests that the accepted explanation for the meridiani berries may be completely off the mark. That would be catastrophic for that theory and I think they will have to start looking around for a current berry surface produced alternative that could well involve life.
c) The surface images with their hints of recently flowing water in an environment where huge amounts of ice is just below the surface and where frost has been frequently seen on dark objects, suggest that the accepted explanation for those numerous areas at Meridiani and Gusev where there appeared to have been recent surface flows of a liquid, will have to be reevaluated and at least the possibility of such being real be seriously considered and not just ignored in the face of the ludicrous explanation of some miraculous flow of fine fines that just ape mini streams.
If their instruments are unable to identify water where we know it exists then the inability of instruments that were not designed to detect or identify current water in the minichannels and muds of gusev and meridiani become not so remarkable after all and should not be used as a rationale to throw out the evidence of most of our eyes that there was recent water in the channels at the surfaces of meridiani and gusev.
re. the timing of the revelations (ex. hort above) He may be right about 2028 or thereabouts but that imo, depends on what the various indtruments show in the remaining days of this mission.
If, in addition to other results that admit the possibility of biology, the AFM shows some undeniable regular, biological-like structures for those small objects which have been passed off as "dust" particles it will become difficult to surpress the slow acknowledgement that the naysayers have lost the battle.
If the AFM shows undeniable dust in its future operations there would be the opposite effect. However, it should be recognized that proper sampling is of paramount importance and if the AFM gets only samples from areas that are unlikely to have bio material the results would be inconclusive from that standpoint.
3. At what depth would anything bio be found? If any at all?
I don't think they are looking for anything bio in the soil and since anything bio is likely to be microbial if anything, I don't think they will find it at any depth. But I think there are clear signs of biological textures in many of the images. The sticking of the soil on the surfaces of the lander and its implements scream something is at work that is stronger than van der waals forces or water within soil particle interstices. I suspect that forces similar to those which bind mud and causes some varieties of it to stick strongly to boots on Earth are at work here. Here, the results of the TEGA and the integrity of its sampling will be of the utmost importance. I hope that the TEGA will get some good samples but I fear that it won't because it might well concentrate exclusively on its water finding objectives in the face of the many problems that have cropped up with the operational aspects of the TEGA.
2. What's your take with respect to any bio signatures present?
I think there have been many images which showed textures and forms and indeed movement (some of hort's animations) that are suggestive of the involvement of life at the surface. However, I don't expect them to be recognized as such. If the mission were longer and they had fulfilled all the mission objectoives perhaps they might look at some of those crevices, overturn some of those rocks and sample what is underneath but that is very unlikely.
In this regard, I am looking forward eagerly to the results of the TECP re. the temperature of the top soil layer and the possibility of liquid water being present from looking at the conductivity measurements between the probes.