NASA’s Curiosity rover has found evidence that lakes once occupied an unexpected area of Mars.
Rippled rock textures were found, NASA reported, suggesting large bodies of water in areas scientists thought would be drier.
“This is the best evidence of water and waves we’ve seen on the entire mission,” said one of the researchers.
Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity Project Scientist nasaThe California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory said the rover had previously crawled thousands of feet of lake sediment and had “never seen evidence of it.”
Since 2014, Curiosity has been sailing at the foot of Mount Sharp, a three-mile-high mountain that was once covered by streams and lakes.
The mountain is made up of multiple layers, with the oldest at the bottom and the youngest at the top, meaning Curiosity is effectively traveling through time to study Earth’s history.
ancient Mars More similar to Earth, with a warm climate and abundant water resources, but now a cold desert.
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The newly discovered corrugated rock texture was found nearly half a mile above the base of the mountain, preserved in a thin layer of dark rock that stands out from the rest of the mountain.
It’s so hard that rovers have been unable to drill through it.
Rippled rock textures are a sign of water, because billions of years ago waves on the shallow lake’s surface stirred up sediment at the bottom — creating a rippling effect over time.
The area would provide a rich environment for microbes, if they exist at all, NASA said.
“The latest evidence we’ll see”
Scientists hope to find more dark rock soft enough to drill into, but the intrepid rover has found more evidence of water elsewhere.
In a valley called Gediz Vallis, debris washed up by a wet landslide on Mount Sharp has been found, including boulders that scientists suspect are the size of cars.
Mr Vasawada said it was “probably the latest evidence of water we’ve seen”.
Curiosity, which has been operating after more than a decade on Earth’s surface, is expected to observe the valley again later this year as it continues to survey Mount Sharp.
Meanwhile, its successor, Perseverance, is hard at work on the Red Planet — last week it completed construction of a rock depot that will help return samples to Earth.