NASA’s Curiosity Rover Moves Closer to Solving the Mysterious Disappearance of Water on Mars

Within the distant previous, Mars was as soon as a a lot hotter and wetter planet than its barren purple panorama would point out in the present day. Now, NASA’s Curiosity Rover has begun investigations of an space that might supply vital insights into the disappearance of liquid water on Mars, when that occurred, and whether or not it might have been host to life on the Pink Planet.

The rover’s investigations have just lately introduced it to the Gediz Vallis channel, an space that billions of years in the past would have regarded much more like Earth. Primarily based on the information Curiosity obtains throughout its explorations, scientists hope to know how the Gediz Vallis channel fashioned and whether or not the traditional channel was certainly the results of the windings of an historical river that when coursed alongside the Martian floor.

Gediz Vallis
Map detailing area of Curiosity’s investigations at Mount Sharp, with the Gediz Vallis channel seen close to the middle, high (Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/Univ. of Arizona/JHUAPL/MSSS/USGS Astrogeology Science Heart).

A Decade of Exploration

NASA’s Curiosity rover touched down on the Bradbury Touchdown website in “Yellowknife” Quad of Aeolis Palus in early August 2012. The next June, it was introduced that the rover would start its roughly five-mile (8 km) trek to the bottom of Aeolis Mons, in any other case referred to as Mount Sharp, which types the central peak of Gale Crater.

Curiosity has spent the final decade making its method up the mountain, traversing the height’s layered decrease foothills and permitting scientists to look at an space that showcases the adjustments of the Martian panorama over time.

NASA's Curiosity Rover
A panorama shot captured from Curiosity’s left navigation digicam reveals the Gediz Vallis in 360-Levels, revealing darkish sand and particles inside the channel (Credit score: NASA/JPL).

One in all Curiosity’s main goals is to find out whether or not water and the chemical compounds required for all times to exist would have been current within the space. The existence of clay minerals already reveals that water would have as soon as interacted with the rock on the Martian floor. Present investigations by Curiosity at the moment are wanting on the presence of sulfates within the space, which is believed to have fashioned way back because the final water within the area lastly evaporated.

Indicators of Water Flowing on Historical Mars?

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory just lately stated that Curiosity is probing the panorama for indicators that the mysterious Gediz Vallis channel might need been slowly carved into the Martian bedrock by the move of water billions of years in the past. Though it was thought-about that the channel might have been fashioned by winds which might be nonetheless prevalent on Mars, the steepness of the channel’s sides is extra in step with the motion of liquid water, both ensuing from a sudden move that carried particles from a landslide, or presumably the fixed move of water from a river.

At this time, the channel is full of stony particles, which the Curiosity crew believes might have been relocated into the channel due to dry avalanches, though the likelihood that these rocky areas on the base of the formation might need been carried with the assistance of water way back is a tantalizing chance.

NASA's Curiosity rover
NASA’s Curiosity rover approaches Mount Sharp (Credit score: NASA/JPL/Caltech).

“If the channel or the particles pile have been fashioned by liquid water, that’s actually fascinating,” stated  Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s challenge scientist with NASA’s JPL. “It will imply that pretty late within the story of Mount Sharp – after an extended dry interval – water got here again, and in a giant method.”

Vasavada and the Curiosity crew consider that if this have been the case, it could match earlier findings that indicated water appears to have vanished and reappeared over a number of phases because the planet regularly turned extra arid.

Unraveling Mount Sharp’s Mysteries

The Curiosity crew says the rover will take a number of months to discover the channel, which might assist result in new insights—and presumably revisions—to our understanding of the timeline for Mount Sharp’s formation.

NASA's Curiosity rover
Mount Sharp, as seen from Curiosity (Credit score: NASA/JPL/CalTech/MSSS).

Though the characteristic’s sedimentary layers have been deposited by wind and water, they didn’t initially appear to be they do in the present day; erosion over lengthy durations regularly revealed the layers which might be current in the present day, processes that may have additionally been required for the formation of the Gediz Vallis channel.

As well as to looking for proof of water that will have carved the channel, a lot of the stony particles that now fills its base most likely originates from additional up Mount Sharp’s slopes, which permits Curiosity an opportunity to look at the mineral composition of stone from a area that it’s going to by no means really go to throughout its mission.


NASA



NASA has made further details about Curiosity’s investigations obtainable on its Mars Exploration web page, which incorporates its science objectives and frequent mission updates on its ongoing exploration of the Pink Planet.

Micah Hanks is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founding father of The Debrief. He could be reached by electronic mail at micah@thedebrief.org. Observe his work at micahhanks.com and on X: @MicahHanks.

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