Is there life on Mars? NASA has public wondering

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity takes a self-portrait

(CBS News) Mars has fascinated earthlings for millennia and speculation about life on the red planet has been the subject of many books, movies, TV shows and -- of course -- Orson Welles' famous 1938 radio broadcast, "The War of the Worlds."

Now, NASA has stirred up some new excitement. They will soon go public with something the rover Curiosity has discovered on Mars. Jeffrey Kluger, science editor for Time magazine spoke to Anthony Mason and Rebecca Jarvis about the upcoming Martian announcement. Could it be little green men?

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"I hate to be the skunk at the picnic," Kluger said. "But this has been a little inadvertently over-hyped. It all stemmed from one bit of infelicitous phrasing from one NASA scientist who said this finding is 'one for the history books.'"

Kluger stressed that what belongs in the history books for a NASA researcher may different from what the general public thinks. That said, he believes the as-yet-unknown finding will not be insignificant.

"My suspicion is... that they've found some traces of methane, which are by-products of metabolism," he said. "So there could be Martian bacteria that are producing this as a by-product, but it could be geological methane... It doesn't mean there's life."

Kluger said that if the methane is still there, it would mean that was being generated in some ways, perhaps geologically. But it's also possible that Mars may have had past life.

"About three billion years ago, Mars is thought to have had a much denser atmosphere," he said. "And we know from surface features that it was a very, very wet place. So it had about a billion years in which it could've begun cooking up life in some early stages, but then it went cold and dry."

What is NASA going to do with this all the information coming in from the rover Curiosity?

Kluger said it's important to remember the reason humans go to places like Mars isn't so that we can monetize it, but rather to better understand our own evolution and discover the prospects of life elsewhere in the solar system. And the value of this kind of data isn't something you can necessarily put a price tag on.

"I happen to be one of the people who believes that life is relatively easy," he said. "With the right chemistry, with the right energy source and with the right amount of time, you can cook it up."

To watch the full interview with Time's science editor Jeffrey Kluger, click on the video player above.