The NASA Curiosity rover has found the strongest evidence yet that ancient water existed on Mars in the form of rippling rocks sculpted by waves.
The ripples originated on Mars when liquid water was present on the planet’s surface, billions of years ago. Both the Curiosity rover in Gale Crater and the Perseverance orbiter in Jezero Crater are investigating these possible ancient waterbeds on Mars to learn more about the red planet’s geological past and its astrobiological potential.
In 2012, Curiosity started its mission with Gale Crater, a low-lying area, but it has now moved to Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-high peak that was previously covered in lakes and streams. Based on what we know about life on Earth, these long-lost waterways would be a fantastic site to start looking for signs of past Martian life. According to a NASA press release, the rover discovered the rock textures in a stratum of granite on Mount Sharp called the Marker Band.
Compared to the regions Curiosity has previously explored, the Marker Band and its surroundings originated under drier conditions. Meaning, the NASA group hypothesized that all of Mars’ water had evaporated long before the formation of the rock in question. Mars possesses polar ice caps and ice sheets, and underneath ice has been agitated by meteor impacts, but liquid water has not been present on the planet for at least a few billion years. Water freezes at the surface of Mars due to the planet’s low temperature and low atmospheric pressure, and NASA estimates that 87% of the water that formerly existed on Mars has evaporated into space.
Curiosity has tried and failed to drill into the very hard Marker Band, but even if it can’t, it still has interesting explorations ahead of it in softer rock.
Gediz Vallis on Mars is filled with several kinds of rock that researchers think were deposited there by landslides from Mars’s distant past. Because of this, the valley is a potential depository for rocks from higher up on Mount Sharp, which Curiosity can’t reach. Scientists will learn about Mars’ history that might otherwise be unavailable by exploring those stones.
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