Curiosity Rover Searches For New Clues About Mars’ Ancient Water

Curiosity Rover Searches For New Clues About Mars’ Ancient Water
The steep path NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover took to achieve Gediz Vallis channel is indicated in yellow on this visualization made with orbital knowledge. At decrease proper is the purpose the place the rover veered off to get an up-close take a look at a ridge shaped way back by particles flows from larger up on Mount Sharp. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UC Berkeley Full Picture Particulars

The rover has arrived at an space which will present proof liquid water flowed on this a part of Mars for for much longer than beforehand thought.

NASA’s Curiosity rover has begun exploring a brand new area of Mars, one that would reveal extra about when liquid water disappeared as soon as and for all from the Purple Planet’s floor. Billions of years in the past, Mars was a lot wetter and possibly hotter than it’s immediately. Curiosity is getting a brand new look into that extra Earth-like previous because it drives alongside and finally crosses the Gediz Vallis channel, a winding, snake-like characteristic that – from house, no less than – seems to have been carved by an historic river.

That chance has scientists intrigued. The rover group is looking for proof that may verify how the channel was carved into the underlying bedrock. The formation’s sides are steep sufficient that the group doesn’t suppose the channel was made by wind. Nonetheless, particles flows (fast, moist landslides) or a river carrying rocks and sediment may have had sufficient vitality to chisel into the bedrock. After the channel shaped, it was crammed with boulders and different particles. Scientists are additionally desirous to be taught whether or not this materials was transported by particles flows or dry avalanches.

Pan round inside this 360-degree video to see Gediz Vallis channel from the viewpoint of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Since 2014, Curiosity has been ascending the foothills of Mount Sharp, which stands 3 miles (5 kilometers) above the ground of Gale Crater. The layers on this decrease a part of the mountain shaped over hundreds of thousands of years amid a altering Martian local weather, offering scientists with a strategy to examine how the presence of each water and the chemical substances required for all times modified over time.

For instance, a decrease a part of these foothills included a layer wealthy in clay minerals the place lots of water as soon as interacted with rock. Now the rover is exploring a layer enriched with sulfates – salty minerals that usually type as water evaporates.

Revising Mount Sharp’s Timeline

It’ll take months to completely discover the channel, and what scientists be taught may revise the timeline for the mountain’s formation.

As soon as the sedimentary layers of decrease Mount Sharp had been deposited by wind and water, erosion whittled them down to show the layers seen immediately. Solely after these prolonged processes – in addition to intensely dry intervals throughout which the floor of Mount Sharp was a sandy desert – may the Gediz Vallis channel have been carved.

Scientists suppose the boulders and different particles that subsequently stuffed the channel got here from excessive up on the mountain, the place Curiosity won’t ever go, giving the group a glimpse of what sorts of fabric could also be up there.

“If the channel or the particles pile had been shaped by liquid water, that’s actually attention-grabbing. It might imply that pretty late within the story of Mount Sharp – after an extended dry interval – water got here again, and in an enormous method,” mentioned Curiosity’s undertaking scientist, Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

That clarification can be in line with probably the most shocking discoveries Curiosity has made whereas driving up Mount Sharp: Water appears to have come and gone in phases, quite than regularly disappearing because the planet grew drier. These cycles will be seen in proof of mud cracks; shallow, salty lakes; and, immediately under the channel, cataclysmic particles flows that piled as much as create the sprawling Gediz Vallis ridge.

Final yr, Curiosity made a difficult ascent to check the ridge, which drapes throughout the slopes of Mount Sharp and appears to develop out of the tip of the channel, suggesting each are a part of one geologic system.

After arriving at Gediz Vallis channel, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover captured this 360-degree panorama utilizing certainly one of its black-and-white navigation cameras on Feb. 3. The formation has scientists intrigued due to what it would inform them concerning the historical past of water on the Purple Planet. bigger picture Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Viewing the Channel Up Shut

Curiosity documented the channel with a 360-degree black-and-white panorama from the rover’s left navigation digital camera. Taken on Feb. 3 (the 4,086th Martian day, or sol, of the mission), the picture exhibits the darkish sand that fills one aspect of the channel and a particles pile rising simply behind the sand. In the wrong way is the steep slope that Curiosity climbed to achieve this space.

The rover takes these sorts of panoramas with its navigation cameras on the finish of every drive. Now the science group is counting on the navcams much more whereas engineers attempt to resolve a problem that’s limiting the usage of one imager belonging to the colour Mast Digital camera, or Mastcam.

Extra Concerning the Mission
Curiosity was constructed by JPL, 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: https://mars.nasa.gov/msl

Astrobiology

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