Cracks in Ancient Martian Mud Surprise NASA’s Curiosity Rover Team – NASA Mars Exploration

A brand new paper suggests the identical circumstances that created the cracks may have been favorable to the emergence of microscopic life.

Scientists aren’t solely certain how life started on Earth, however one prevailing concept posits that persistent cycles of moist and dry circumstances on land helped assemble the complicated chemical constructing blocks obligatory for microbial life. Because of this a patchwork of well-preserved historical mud cracks discovered by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is so thrilling to the mission’s group.

A brand new paper in Nature particulars how the distinctive hexagonal sample of those mud cracks presents the primary proof of wet-dry cycles occurring on early Mars.

“These specific mud cracks kind when wet-dry circumstances happen repeatedly – maybe seasonally,” stated the paper’s lead writer, William Rapin of France’s Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie.

Curiosity Views Mud Cracks in the Clay-Sulfate Transition Region

Curiosity Views Mud Cracks within the Clay-Sulfate Transition Area: An in depth-up of the panorama taken by Curiosity’s Mastcam at “Pontours” reveals hexagonal patterns – outlined in pink in the identical picture, proper – that counsel these mud cracks fashioned after many wet-dry cycles occurring over years. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/IRAP. Obtain picture ›

Curiosity is regularly ascending the sedimentary layers of Mount Sharp, which stands 3 miles (5 kilometers) excessive in Gale Crater. The rover noticed the mud cracks in 2021 after drilling a pattern from a rock goal nicknamed “Pontours,” discovered inside a transitional zone between a clay-rich layer and one greater up that’s enriched with salty minerals known as sulfates. Whereas clay minerals normally kind in water, sulfates are likely to kind as water dries up.

The minerals prevalent in every space replicate completely different eras in Gale Crater’s historical past.The transitional zone between them presents a document of a interval when lengthy dry spells turned prevalent and the lakes and rivers that when crammed the crater started to recede.

As mud dries out, it shrinks and fractures into T-shaped junctions – that are what Curiosity found beforehand at “Outdated Soaker,” a set of mud cracks decrease down on Mount Sharp. These junctions are proof that Outdated Soaker’s mud fashioned and dried out as soon as, whereas the recurring exposures to water that created the Pontours mud triggered the T-shaped junctions to melt and change into Y-shaped, finally forming a hexagonal sample.

The hexagonal cracks within the transitional zone saved forming at the same time as new sediment was deposited, indicating that the wet-dry circumstances continued over lengthy durations of time. ChemCam, Curiosity’s precision laser instrument, confirmed a hardy crust of sulfates alongside the cracks’ edges, which isn’t too stunning given the proximity of the sulfate area. The salty crust is what made the mud cracks proof against erosion, preserving them for billions of years.

The Proper Situations

“That is the primary tangible proof we’ve seen that the traditional local weather of Mars had such common, Earth-like wet-dry cycles,” Rapin stated. “However much more necessary is that wet-dry cycles are useful – possibly even required – for the molecular evolution that might result in life.”

Though water is crucial to life, a cautious steadiness is required – not an excessive amount of water, not too little. The sorts of circumstances that maintain microbial life – those who permit a long-lasting lake, for instance – aren’t the identical because the circumstances scientists assume are required to advertise chemical reactions that may result in life. A key product of these chemical reactions are lengthy chains of carbon-based molecules known as polymers – together with nucleic acids, molecules thought of to be chemical buildings blocks of life as we all know it.

Moist-dry cycles management the focus of chemical compounds that feed the elemental reactions resulting in the formation of polymers.

“This paper expands the sort of discoveries Curiosity has made,” stated the mission’s challenge scientist, Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Over 11 years, we’ve discovered ample proof that historical Mars may have supported microbial life. Now, the mission has discovered proof of circumstances which will have promoted the origin of life, too.”

The invention of the Pontours mud cracks could in reality have supplied scientists their first alternative to check the stays of life’s cauldron. Earth’s tectonic plates consistently recycle its floor, burying examples of its prebiotic historical past. Mars doesn’t have tectonic plates, a lot older durations of the planet’s historical past have been preserved.

“It’s fairly fortunate of us to have a planet like Mars close by that also holds a reminiscence of the pure processes which can have led to life,” Rapin stated.

Extra In regards to the Mission

Curiosity was constructed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed by Caltech in Pasadena, California. JPL leads the mission on behalf of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For extra about Curiosity, go to:

Information Media Contacts

Andrew Good

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.


Karen Fox / Alana Johnson

NASA Headquarters, Washington

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