Photos from NASA’s Curiosity mission could reveal evidence of climate change on Mars that includes the drying up of a previous watery surface.
The findings were published last week in a NASA statement about Curiosity’s decade-long mission.
“We no longer see the lacustrine deposits that we saw for years further down Mount Sharp,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
“Instead, we see a lot of evidence of drier climates, like dry dunes that occasionally had streams around them. That’s a big change from lakes that persisted perhaps millions of years ago,” she added.
The statement noted that over the past year, the Curiosity rover traveled through a transition area from a “clay-rich region” to a sulfate-filled area. The observations could provide a record of an ancient shift in the Red Planet’s climate change.
Finger-shaped rock images have also supported the likelihood of groundwater moving through certain areas of Mars.
“They probably formed billions of years ago when groundwater moved, leaving minerals behind. In the Martian atmosphere, the winds eroded the softer parts and left the harder parts behind,” the Curiosity Rover Twitter account noted along with an example of an image.
Fingerlings…rocks? I saw these strange shapes while exploring. They were probably formed billions of years ago when groundwater moved, leaving minerals behind. In the Martian atmosphere, the winds eroded the softer parts and left the harder parts behind. https://t.co/XKbiJuUMEC pic.twitter.com/U091p6DOf1
– Curiosity rover (arsMarsCuriosity) June 15, 2022
Curiosity’s mission has already revealed images that support the view that ancient Mars experienced a climate that may have included long-lived lakes.
Nice isn’t it?
I am walking through a transition zone between an area rich in clay and one full of sulfate. Groundwater flowed and flowed over time through these geological features, leaving a puzzle that my team and I can’t wait to solve. https://t.co/umIr7ctS3r pic.twitter.com/gZ8aSzYwtn
– Curiosity rover (arsMarsCuriosity) June 22, 2022
In 2014, investigation of Gale Crater suggested that the flow of water and sediment may have been massive enough to build the three-mile-high Mount Sharp.
“If our hypothesis for Mount Sharp holds up, it challenges the notion that warm, humid conditions were transient, local, or just underground on Mars,” Vasavada said compared to the previous findings.
“A more radical explanation is that the ancient and thicker atmosphere of Mars raised temperatures above freezing around the world, but so far we don’t know how the atmosphere did it,” he added.
In 2013, NASA observed sedimentary rocks that led to the suggestion that Mars once had fresh water. The 2012 images also observed small rocks that appeared to have been smoothed and shaped by water.
Much speculation circulated online after an image from Curiosity surfaced to show a “gateway” on Mars. However, NASA has noted that the image captured a natural geological feature, despite the familiar appearance of a door.
Some of you have noticed this image I took on Mars. Sure, it may look like a small gate, but it’s actually a natural geological feature! It might just *look* like a door because your mind is trying to make sense of the unknown. (This is called “pareidolia”) https://t.co/TrtbwO7m46 pic.twitter.com/VdwNhBkN6J
– Curiosity rover (arsMarsCuriosity) May 18, 2022
The discussion about water on Mars is not limited to the Curiosity mission. NASA has investigated evidence of ancient water on the planet since the 1970s.
“Scientists have tracked traces of ancient water across Mars since the 1970s, when orbiters revealed networks of branching valleys that matched the dendritic shape of water-eroded valleys on Earth,” Science Magazine reported. “In the 1990s, Mars Global Surveyor zoomed in on deep gullies that could only have been carved out by powerful flows of water, and may even have glimpsed the shorelines of an ancient ocean.”
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