Water Once Ran on Mars

The Curiosity rover discovers pebbles that were likely formed by ancient streams on the Red Planet.

By | October 1, 2012

image: Water Once Ran on Mars A view of Hottah, where the Curiosity rover found rocks indicating that water once ran over the surface of MarsNASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Seven weeks into its Mars expedition, NASA’s Curiosity rover has identified clues that point to a watery past—rocks that, based on their size and shape, researchers think were eroded by water. The small pebbles, which are likely billions of years old, could be evidence of an ancient network of intertwining streams, the researchers said.

Satellite images of the planet have long suggested that such streams once existed. Channels resembling the stream beds of Earth hinted that some sort of liquid traversed Mars’ surface at some point in the ancient past. But the newly found rocks, sand and gravel pebbles of a larger structure called a conglomerate, are the first solid evidence for this idea.

The particular conglomerate that the Curiosity photographed, named Hottah by project scientists, was a 10- to 15-cm thick slab that stuck out of the ground at an angle. "This is the first time we're actually seeing water-transported gravel on Mars," Curiosity science co-investigator William Dietrich of the University of California, Berkeley said in a statement. "This is a transition from speculation about the size of streambed material to direct observation of it."

Researchers are also eager to bring back samples to study the chemistry of the conglomerates, which could reveal details about the water, such as the pH. Though NASA recently pulled out of the European-led ExoMars program, which aims to bring back samples from the Red Planet [link to Obama feature], a US space agency panel this week (September 25) outlined other options for sampling the planet’s surface, ScienceInsider reported. The end goal is to determine whether Mars ever was—or maybe even still is—home to microbial life.

(Hat tip to BBC News.)

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Comments

Avatar of: steinp2

steinp2

Posts: 33

October 1, 2012

With windstorms being quite prevalent on Mars, is it possible that the described features could have developed over hundreds of millions of years due to that sort of erosion?

Avatar of: Ron Warrick

Ron Warrick

Posts: 3

October 1, 2012

Yes, that is known to occur, but has been ruled out in this case.

Avatar of: JOHN WILLIAMS

JOHN WILLIAMS

Posts: 2

October 10, 2012

These pebbles could have been shaped by chemical weathering and wind erosion. As an Earth bound geologist I cannot accept that this is all the evidnece NASA has. Surely they have more evidence than just analogy.

Avatar of: JOHN WILLIAMS

JOHN WILLIAMS

Posts: 2

October 10, 2012

These pebbles could have been shaped by chemical weathering and wind erosion. As an Earth bound geologist I cannot accept that this is all the evidnece NASA has. Surely they have more evidence than just analogy.

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