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Curiosity Finds Lake Rock Layers; What Happened on Mars to Turn So Dry Now?

NASA’s Curiosity rover exploring Mars surface has uncovered in detail about an ancient lake environment on Mars that offered favorable conditions for microbial life or alien life as it is being regarded now.

The lake in Mars’ Gale Crater was seen stratified, with oxidant-rich shallows and oxidant-poor depths and it offered offered multiple types of microbe-friendly environments, said NASA.

Previous work had revealed the presence of a lake more than three billion years ago in Mars’ Gale Crater and now Curiosity’s powerful payload shows that the lake was stratified. Stratified bodies of water exhibit sharp chemical or physical differences between deep water and shallow water. In Gale’s lake, the shallow water was richer in oxidants than deeper water was.

The image above taken by Curiosity is an example of a thick-laminated, evenly-stratified rock type that forms stratigraphically beneath cross-bedded sandstones regarded as ancient river deposits. These rocks are interpreted to record sedimentation in a lake, as part of or in front of a delta, where plumes of river sediment settled out of the water column and onto the lake floor.

“These were very different, co-existing environments in the same lake,” said Joel Hurowitz of Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York, lead author of a report in the journal Science.

“This type of oxidant stratification is a common feature of lakes on Earth, and now we’ve found it on Mars. The diversity of environments in this Martian lake would have provided multiple opportunities for different types of microbes to survive, including those that thrive in oxidant-rich conditions, those that thrive in oxidant-poor conditions, and those that inhabit the interface between those settings,” he said.

Though it is still uncertain whether Mars has ever hosted any life but seeking signs of life on any planet begins with reconstruction of the environment to determine if it was capable of supporting life.

Curiosity that landed inside Gale Crater in 2012 was exploring whether Mars has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. By mid-2017, Curiosity will reach higher and younger layers of Mount Sharp to study how the ancient lake environment evolved to a drier environment more like modern Mars.

Curiosity and other Mars science missions are all part of ambitious robotic exploration to understand Mars, which may help to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

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