Curiosity rover searches for brand spanking new clues about Mars’ historical water


Curiosity rover searches for new clues about Mars' ancient water
The steep path NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover took to succeed in 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 have a look at a ridge shaped way back by particles flows from increased up on Mount Sharp. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UC Berkeley

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

That risk has scientists intrigued. The rover group is looking for proof that will affirm how the channel was carved into the underlying bedrock. The formation’s sides are steep sufficient that the group would not assume the channel was made by wind. Nevertheless, particles flows (speedy, 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 full of boulders and different particles. Scientists are additionally desirous to study whether or not this materials was transported by particles flows or dry avalanches.

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 components 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 plenty of water as soon as interacted with rock. Now the rover is exploring a layer enriched with sulfates—salty minerals that always kind as water evaporates.

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

Revising mount sharp’s timeline

It would take months to completely discover the channel, and what scientists study 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 reveal the layers seen at the moment. Solely after these prolonged processes—in addition to intensely dry durations throughout which the floor of Mount Sharp was a sandy desert—may the Gediz Vallis channel have been carved.

Scientists assume 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 varieties of fabric could also be up there.

“If the channel or the particles pile have been shaped by liquid water, that is actually attention-grabbing. It will imply that pretty late within the story of Mount Sharp—after a protracted dry interval—water got here again, and in a giant approach,” mentioned Curiosity’s venture scientist, Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

Curiosity rover searches for new clues about Mars' ancient water
After arriving at Gediz Vallis channel, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover captured this 360-degree panorama utilizing one in every of its black-and-white navigation cameras on Feb. 3. The formation has scientists intrigued due to what it’d inform them in regards to the historical past of water on the Crimson Planet. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

That clarification could be according to one of the vital shocking discoveries Curiosity has made whereas driving up Mount Sharp: Water appears to have come and gone in phases, fairly than regularly disappearing because the planet grew drier. These cycles may be seen in proof of mud cracks; shallow, salty lakes; and, instantly under the channel, cataclysmic particles flows that piled as much as create the sprawling Gediz Vallis ridge.

Final 12 months, 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.

Viewing the channel up shut

Curiosity documented the channel with a 360-degree black-and-white panorama from the rover’s left navigation digicam. 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 succeed in 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 difficulty that’s limiting using one imager belonging to the colour Mast Digicam, or Mastcam.

Curiosity rover searches for brand spanking new clues about Mars’ historical water (2024, March 30)
retrieved 30 March 2024

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