Photos from NASA’s Curiosity mission could reveal evidence of climate change on Mars, including the drying up of an ancient watery surface.
The findings were released last week in a NASA statement regarding Curiosity’s decade-long mission.
“We no longer see the lake deposits that we saw for years lower on Mount Sharp,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
“Instead, we see lots of evidence of drier climates, like dry dunes that were sometimes surrounded by streams. This is a big change from the lakes that persisted perhaps millions of years before,” he added.
The statement notes that over the past year, the Curiosity rover has traversed a transition zone from a “clay-rich region” to a sulphate-filled zone. The observations could provide a record of an ancient shift in the Red Planet’s changing climate.
Images of finger-like rocks have also confirmed the likelihood of groundwater moving through certain areas of Mars.
“They probably formed billions of years ago when groundwater moved, leaving minerals behind. In the Martian atmosphere, winds have eroded the softer parts and left the harder parts behind,” the Curiosity Rover Twitter account observed alongside an example of an image.
Fingerling… rocks? I spotted these strange shapes while I was exploring. They probably formed billions of years ago when groundwater moved, leaving minerals behind. In the Martian atmosphere, the winds have eroded the softer parts and left behind the harder parts. https://t.co/XKbiJuUMEC pic.twitter.com/U091p6DOf1
— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) June 15, 2022
The Curiosity mission has already revealed images that support the idea that ancient Mars experienced a climate that may have included long-lived lakes.
Pretty isn’t it?
I cross a transition zone between a zone rich in clay and a zone filled with sulphate. Groundwater has flowed and ebbed over time through these geological features, leaving a puzzle that my team and I look forward to solving. https://t.co/umIr7ctS3r pic.twitter.com/gZ8aSzYwtn
— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) June 22, 2022
In 2014, the investigation of Gale Crater suggested that the flow of water and sediment may have been large enough to build the three-mile-tall Mount Sharp.
“If our hypothesis for Mount Sharp holds up, it calls into question the idea that hot, humid conditions were transient, local, or only subterranean on Mars,” Vasavada said of the previous findings.
“A more drastic explanation is that the thicker ancient atmosphere of Mars raised temperatures above freezing on a global scale, but so far we don’t know how the atmosphere did this.” , he added.
In 2013, NASA observed sedimentary rocks that led to the suggestion that Mars once contained fresh water. The 2012 images also observed small rocks that appeared to have been smoothed and shaped by water.
Much speculation has been circulating online after an image from Curiosity appeared to show a “gateway” on Mars. However, NASA noted that the image captured a natural geological feature, despite the gate’s familiar look.
Some of you noticed this image I took on Mars. Sure, it may look like a small gate, but it’s actually a natural geological feature! It may just *look* like a doorway because your mind is trying to make sense of the unknown. (It’s called “pareidolia”) https://t.co/TrtbwO7m46 pic.twitter.com/VdwNhBkN6J
— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) May 18, 2022
The discussion of water on Mars is not limited to the Curiosity mission. NASA has investigated evidence of ancient water on the planet since the 1970s.
“Scientists have been tracing the traces of ancient water on Mars since the 1970s, when orbiters revealed networks of branching valleys that matched the dendritic shape of water-eroded valleys on Earth,” Science Magazine reported. . “In the 1990s, the Mars Global Surveyor zoomed in on deeply incised gullies that could only have been carved out by powerful water flows – and may even have glimpsed the shores of an ancient ocean.”