Curiosity rover finds evidence of Mars' ancient salty lakes

Katie Ramirez
October 9, 2019

The bottom of the image is the floor of Gale Crater, with the peak being the side of Mount Sharp. The findings were published recently in the journal Nature Geoscience. The dried cracks in the surface of the rock are believed to be evidence of a time when dry intervals interrupted wetter periods that supported lakes in the area of Gale Crater. The authors interpret rocks enriched in mineral salts discovered by the rover as evidence of shallow briny ponds that went through episodes of overflow and drying.

The scientists are trying to find out how long transitions between different climates took on Mars.

The sulfate salts represent a different finding from Curiosity's evidence of freshwater lakes in the foundation of Mount Sharp back in 2015.

The remnant of a large asteroid or meteoroid affect, Gale Crater preserves a "distinctive file of a altering Mars", Rapin mentioned, making it the flawless place to seek for proof of the planet's prehistoric local weather.

The spacecraft investigating the Gale crater of Mars used the built-in laser technology to understand the composition of the rock specimens, while the calcium and magnesium sulfate concentrations were found to be drier than those previously analyzed. Sediment carried by water and wind eventually filled in the crater floor, layer by layer.

"'We went to Gale Crater because it preserves this queer file of a changing Mars", acknowledged lead creator William Rapin of Caltech.

Any water that was once present is now clearly long-gone and understanding more about the change in Mars' climate from a watery world to that of a giant desert is one of the primary objectives of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL)/Curiosity rover investigation.

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Pure salt is usually left behind when a lake dries and disappears, but these are mineral salts mixed in with sediment.

Examining a 150-meter-tall section of sedimentary rocks called Sutton Island, the research team discovered that in addition to having intermittent drier period, the water was briny.

One comparison on Earth is the Altiplano, a high plateau in South America where saline lakes are fed by mountain streams and rivers and influenced by climate shifts.

"Alternatively, a drier Gale lake might be a sign of long-term, secular global drying of Mars, posited based on orbital observations", scientists of the study said. 'The fact that they're vegetation-free even makes them look a little like Mars'.

Curiosity is far from done in its quest to unravel Mars's climatic history and it has a few more years left before its nuclear power system degrades enough to significantly limit operations.

"We can't say whether we're seeing wind or river deposits yet in the clay-bearing unit, but we're comfortable saying is it's definitely not the same thing as what came before or what lies ahead", Fedo said.

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