Thursday, 17 October, 2019

Curiosity rover discovers ancient oasis on Mars

Mars' vast saltwater lakes evaporated around 3.3billion years ago Salty rocks found by Curiosity supports theory that Mars once had vast lakes
Sandra Phillips | 09 October, 2019, 10:10

But the salts identified by Rapin and company looked different than those typically produced by drying freshwater lakes. Now, researchers present new evidence to back this up - using data right from the Martian surface. NASA says that the rock gives us an idea of what the surface of Mars might have been like 3.5 billion years ago. Curiosity has analyzed other, older rocks on Mars and didn't detect these salts in them.

Looking forward, Curiosity will be continuing to explore Gale crater and will examine even younger-aged rocks to shine further light on the drying of the Martian surface.

The remnant of a large asteroid or meteoroid affect, Gale Crater preserves a "distinctive file of a altering Mars", Rapin mentioned, making it the ideal place to seek for proof of the planet's prehistoric local weather. Sediment carried by water and wind filled in the crater floor, layer by layer. Watch history in fast forward, and you'd see these waterways overflow then dry up, a cycle that probably repeated itself numerous times over millions of years. The findings were published recently in the journal Nature Geoscience.

"'We went to Gale Crater because it preserves this queer file of a changing Mars", acknowledged lead creator William Rapin of Caltech.

Examining a 150-meter-tall section of sedimentary rocks called Sutton Island, the research team discovered that in addition to having intermittent drier period, the water was briny.

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Based on the new study, one can't help but wonder that with all the water on Mars, there is a big chance that life also existed during those times.

When lakes are evaporated, pure salt crystals are usually left behind. The researchers believe this means that the salts crystallized in a wet environment beneath the briny ponds. Scientists liken the region's ancient environment to the South America's Altiplano, where alpine lakes and streams from the surrounding mountains feed a series of saline lakes on an arid, high-altitude plateau.

What Mars may have looked like.

Over the aeons, the wind carved out a broad hill which has been named Mount Keen, which Curiosity is now mountaineering up. "But that trend didn't necessarily occur in a linear fashion. More likely, it was messy, including drier periods, like what we're seeing at Sutton Island, followed by wetter periods". Team member Chris Fedo, who specializes in the study of sedimentary layers at the University of Tennessee, noted that Curiosity is now running across large rock structures that could have formed only in a higher-energy environment such as a windswept area or flowing streams.

"Finding inclined layers represents a major change, where the landscape isn't completely underwater anymore", said team member, Chris Fedo, in the statement. "We could have left the period of deep lakes behind".

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