PASADENA, California – Not long ago, at least on a geographical timeline, Mars had lakes and rivers. This discovery was made by scientists at the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity who used data from the Curiosity rover collected in the Gale Crater to confirm it.
Ashwin Vasavada, co-author of a report released by JPL on Friday said “Observations from the rover suggest that a series of long-lived streams and lakes existed at some point between about 3.8 to 3.3 billion years ago, delivering sediment that slowly built up the lower layers of Mount Sharp,” .
The most recent findings do not mark the first time that running water has been discovered on Mars, but does add to the growing body of evidence.
Many of the previous reports, however, have been challenged by the scientific community as ambiguous and alternative explanations have been put forward for most of the findings.
Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at NASA said “What we thought we knew about water on Mars is constantly being put to the test,” he added “It’s clear that the Mars of billions of years ago more closely resembled Earth than it does today. Our challenge is to figure out … what happened to that wetter Mars.”.
Before Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012 scientists had already proposed that the Gale Crater was filled with layers of sediment deposited by liquid water in ancient lakes, other hypotheses put forward suggested that that the layers had been created by dust and sand laid down by the wind.
Where did the water come from?. The prevalent hypothesis for the origins on surface water is that Mars once had a warmer climate caused by a thicker atmosphere. Some of the water may have been supplied by rain and snowfall at the rim of the Gale Crater another explanation is that there were actual oceans in the plains north of the crater but that does not explain the fact that liquid water existed for long periods on the surface.
Vasavada said. “The prediction was that we should start seeing water-deposited, fine-grained rocks closer to Mount Sharp. Now that we’ve arrived, we’re seeing finely laminated mud stones in abundance that look like lake deposits.”. The studies also show evidence fast moving streams with coarse gravel as well as mud stone.
There is no doubt that these findings will be challenged as well but the riddle is closer to being solved as scientists develop better atmospheric models and get new data from Curiosity as it continues to climb Mount Sharp in the coming years.
The discovery of water on Mars could make NASA’s ambitious goal to colonize Mars in the 2030’s a more realistic goal. Water is vital for life, and the water on Mars could potentially be used to support colonization efforts.