NASA rover Curiosity Mars discovered new geological evidence that liquid water was flowing on the Red Planet in the distant past.
Scientists think the rover may have discovered 3 billion-year-old mud cracks, meaning the planet was likely covered in water at that time. The rover also identified geological layering patterns called cross-bedding which typically forms on Earth when water flows rapidly near the shore of a lake.
“Mud cracks are the most likely scenario here,” Nathan Stein, a member of Curiosity’s science team, said in a press statement. “Even from a distance, we could see a pattern of four- and five-sided polygons that don’t look like fractures we’ve seen previously with Curiosity. It looks like what you’d see beside the road where muddy ground has dried and cracked.”
The presence of mud cracks and cross-bedding indicates that the area the rover is surveying is likely an ancient lake bed indicates Mars could have supported life at some point. It also sheds light on how the Red Planet’s relatively habitable ancient conditions changed into today’s, which are much less favorable for life.
This discovery is just the latest to determine that The Red Planet may have contained habitats that can potentially support life. Other observations from the rover indicate that Mars had an environment that could have supported life for well over 100 million years.
In December, Curiosity found numerous organic molecules “all over” the Red Planet in samples it drilled out of rocks as well as organic molecules.
“I am convinced that organics are all over Mars,” Dr. Jennifer Eigenbrode, a biogeochemist and geologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement. “They’re all over the surface and they’re probably through the rock record. What that means is something we’ll have to talk about.”
Scientists at the University of Texas published research in November that said some volcanic areas on Mars could be ideal chemical environment for life to develop and flourish even in the present day. Lava from volcanoes and ice from glaciers would combine to form a fairly warm environment by Martian standards and have access to a lot of water, ice, and potentially even liquid water.
Geologists announced in September that hydrogen, a critical component necessary to support life, can be produced by earthquakes on Earth. They concluded that the same kind of “Marsquakes” could produce hydrogen on Mars, removing a major barrier to life. The Red Planet’s atmosphere is rich in oxygen, so an ample supply of hydrogen could mean that water is more common on Mars than generally believed.
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