Credit: NASA artwork

Credit: NASA artwork

 

A paper to be published tomorrow, Oct. 9 in the journal Science by members of the Mars Science Laboratory team for the Curiosity rover, describes ancient water flows and lakes on Mars, and what this might mean about the planet’s ancient climate.

“We have tended to think of Mars as being simple,” says John Grotzinger, the California Institute of Technology’s (Caltech) Fletcher Jones Professor of Geology, chair of the Division of Planetary and Geological Sciences, and lead author of the paper.

A view from the Kimberley formation looking south. The strata in the foreground dip towards the base of Mount Sharp, indicating the ancient depression that existed before the larger bulk of the mountain formed. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A view from the Kimberley formation looking south. The strata in the foreground dip towards the base of Mount Sharp, indicating the ancient depression that existed before the larger bulk of the mountain formed.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“We once thought of the Earth as being simple, too. But the more you look into it, questions come up because you’re beginning to fathom the real complexity of what we see on Mars. This is a good time to go back to reevaluate all our assumptions. Something is missing somewhere,” Grotzinger adds.

Gale crater

Since August 2012, NASA’s Curiosity robot has been wheeling its way through Gale Crater territory. That site is estimated to be between 3.8 billion and 3.6 billion years old.

According to a Caltech press statement released today:

“As Curiosity has trekked across Gale Crater, it has stopped to examine numerous areas of interest. All targets are imaged, and soil samples have been scooped from some; the rocks in a select few places have been drilled for samples. These samples are deposited into the rover’s onboard laboratories. Using data from these instruments, as well as visual imaging from the onboard cameras and spectroscopic analyses, [Mars Science Laboratory (MSL)] scientists have pieced together an increasingly coherent and compelling story about the evolution of this region of Mars.”

A Curiosity rover image taken at the Hidden Valley site, en-route to Mount Sharp. A variety of mudstone strata in the area indicate a lakebed deposit, with river- and stream- related deposits nearby. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A Curiosity rover image taken at the Hidden Valley site, en-route to Mount Sharp. A variety of mudstone strata in the area indicate a lakebed deposit, with river- and stream- related deposits nearby.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Wetter scenario

In mid-September 2014, the rover reached the foothills of Aeolis Mons, a three-mile-high layered mountain nicknamed “Mount Sharp” in honor of the late Caltech geologist Robert Sharp. Curiosity has been exploring the base of the mountain since then.

The latest results from Curiosity indicate that wetter scenarios about the area are correct for the lower portions of Mount Sharp. Based on the new analysis, the filling of at least the bottom layers of the mountain occurred mostly by ancient rivers and lakes.

Given the rover’s arrival at that locale, scientists are seeing finely laminated mudstones in abundance. These silty layers in the strata are interpreted as ancient lake deposits.

For an informative and rich-with-detail account of the new findings and research, go to:

http://www.caltech.edu/news/wet-paleoclimate-mars-revealed-ancient-lakes-gale-crater-48249

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