NASA Curiosity Rover Paints A Detailed Picture Of Ancient Mars Environments

Posted: Jun 13 2017, 12:40pm CDT | by , Updated: Jun 13 2017, 12:46pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 

NASA Curiosity Rover Paints a Detailed Picture of Ancient Mars Environments
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
 

Samples of rocks collected by the Curiosity rover suggest diverse enviroments on Mars billions of years ago

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has scooped sedimentary rocks from the lowermost layers of Mount Sharp and found a wide diversity of minerals in the samples, suggesting that conditions on planet have changed over time. 

Mars once had water flowing across its surface. But most of its water was stripped away by solar winds, transforming it from a planet that could have supported life into a dry, icy world.

Today, Mars cannot maintain liquid water because its atmosphere is too cold and thin. However latest evidences suggest that the ancient Martian climate was much different than what we see today. It was warm enough to flow liquid water on its surface. Since water is essential for life, its presence inevitably means that some sort of life existed on Martian surface in the past. 

"We went to Gale Crater to investigate these lower layers of Mount Sharp that have these minerals that precipitated from water and suggest different environments," said lead study author Elizabeth Rampe, These layers were deposited about 3.5 billion years ago, coinciding with a time on Earth when life was beginning to take hold. We think early Mars may have been similar to early Earth, and so these environments might have been habitable.”

Samples drilled near the base of Mount Sharp hint at diverse environments buried in the ancient Gale crater on Mars. The crater harbored a lake more than three billion years ago and samples also provide evidence for water with different pH and variably oxidizing conditions. Rock samples have been collected from "Pahrump Hills", "Marias Pass,” Confidence Hills”, “Mojave 2” and “Telegraph Peak” and they show a wide diversity of minerals. 

The innermost layer contains minerals from a primitive magma source, which was filled with iron and magnesium, similar to basalts in Hawaii. Upper layer had more silica-rich minerals. Moreover, minerals also changed significantly from one part of the region to another. In the "Telegraph Peak" sample, researchers have found quartz-like minerals, while Confidence Hills and Mojave 2 minerals are similar to clay, which is generally formed in the presence of liquid water with a near-neutral pH. Therefore, it could be good indicators of past environments that were able to support life.

“We have all this evidence that that Mars was once really wet but now is dry and cold," said Rampe. "Today, much of the water is locked up in the poles and in the ground at high latitudes as ice. We think that the rocks Curiosity has studied reveal ancient environmental changes that occurred as Mars started to lose its atmosphere and water was lost to space.”

Curiosity has been working on Mars since 2012. It reached the base of Mount Sharp in 2014 – a mountain at the center of the Gale Crater and has accomplished its main goal of determining whether Mars once offered environmental conditions suitable for microbial life.

Curiosity is still studying how Mars' ancient environment changed from warm and wet conditions favorable for microbial life to harsher, drier conditions. 

 

 

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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