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CosmosUp | June 17, 2019

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Curiosity Rover Bolsters Evidence For Life: 'Great Lake' On Red Planet

Curiosity Rover Bolsters Evidence For Life: ‘Great Lake’ On Red Planet
Editors

Ever imagine that the red planet’s surface may once have had a different appearance? Well while researchers at NASA have had rovers scoping out Mars’ surface for years, new information received from NASA’s Curiosity Rover suggests that the planet’s craters may once have served a different purpose, and that the arid red planet may once have had long-lasting above ground lakes.


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Curiosity is exploring a 96-mile-wide impact basin named Gale Crater, where the rover touched down in August 2012. Scientists cited a three-mile-high peak named Mount Sharp in the center of the crater as the reason for landing the rover at Gale Crater after observations from Mars orbiters showed the mountain harbored clay minerals that likely formed in the presence of water.
This illustration depicts a lake of water partially filling Mars’ Gale Crater, receiving runoff from snow melting on the crater’s northern rim. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS

This illustration depicts a lake of water partially filling Mars’ Gale Crater, receiving runoff from snow melting on the crater’s northern rim. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS


“Gale Crater had a large lake filling the bottom of the 155 km crater, perhaps even a series of lakes,” said Michael Meyer, Mars Exploration Program lead scientist at NASA. “This lake was large enough that it could have lasted millions of years, sufficient time for life to get started and thrive, sufficient time for lake sediments to build up and form Mount Sharp.”

Evidence that the Red Planet had a watery past keeps piling with NASA’s Martian instruments finding what may have been flowing river and water-rich minerals, but while the presence of water on Mars can serve as a strong indication that the planet had once sustained life and that water is in fact crucial to the habitability of planet Earth, a prominent researcher pointed out that the presence of liquid water does not mean that Mars indeed supported life.

Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena said in NASA’s announcement:

“If our hypothesis for Mount Sharp holds up, it challenges the notion that warm and wet conditions were transient, local, or only underground on Mars. A more radical explanation is that Mars’ ancient, thicker atmosphere raised temperatures above freezing globally, but so far we don’t know how the atmosphere did that.”

As the rover climbs higher, scientists hope to learn more about how the mountain formed, and what was happening billions of years ago on Mars, which is now cold and dry with a very thin atmosphere.


“We would like to see if there are times when the lake freshens, if there are times when the lake becomes salty, if there are times when it evaporates completely,” said Grotzinger (Curiosity project scientist). “That will really begin to tell us about the climate history on Mars at a higher level.”

From its 2012 landing site to its current work site, the rover Curiosity is going 500 feet or 150 meters deep into the lowest sedimentary layers of Mount Sharp, providing more data about the crater floor that gives indication of past lakes existing at about 5 miles or 8 kilometers.

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