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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

12/10/2013 (4 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Curiosity rover uncovers sedimentary deposits which supports claim

More evidence has been found supporting the idea of major bodies of water being on Mars. Scientists found evidence of an ancient freshwater lake on Mars that could support microbial life. Located inside Gale Crater where the rover landed in August 2012, the lake theoretically covered an area 31 miles long and three miles wide.

Organic carbon, which so far has not been found on Mars, could have been preserved inside rocks within about two inches of the surface, the depth of Curiosity's drill.

Organic carbon, which so far has not been found on Mars, could have been preserved inside rocks within about two inches of the surface, the depth of Curiosity's drill.

Article Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

12/10/2013 (4 months ago)

Published in Technology

Keywords: Mars, fresh water, Curiosity, rover




LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Analysis of sedimentary deposits gathered by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity shows the lake existed for at least tens of thousands of years - maybe even longer.

"We've come to appreciate that is a habitable system of environments that includes the lake, the associated streams and, at times when the lake was dry, the groundwater," geologist John Grotzinger, with the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena says.

Speaking to reporters at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, Grotzinger says that analysis of clays drilled out from two rock samples in the area known as Yellowknife Bay prove that a freshwater lake existed. The lake was active at a time when other parts of Mars were dried up or dotted with shallow, acidic, salty pools incapable of sustaining life.

The lake in Gale Crater could have supported a simple class of rock-eating microbes, known as chemolithoautotrophs. On Earth, these organisms are commonly found in caves and hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, Grotzinger adds.

The clays, which form in the presence of water, were younger than expected. This finding expands the window of time for when Mars may have been suited for life.

Previous studies from Mars orbiters, landers and rovers have provided increasing evidence for a warmer, wetter, more Earth-like Mars in the planet's past. Ancient rocks bear telltale chemical fingerprints of past interactions with water.

In addition, Mars' surface is riddled with geologic features carved by water, such as channels, dried up riverbeds, lake deltas and other sedimentary deposits.

Organic carbon, which so far has not been found on Mars, could have been preserved inside rocks within about two inches of the surface, the depth of Curiosity's drill.

Finding rock samples with relatively short exposure times should not be a problem. One of the mud stones at Yellowknife Bay has been exposed to the destructive effects of cosmic rays for only about 70 million years, well within the period of time to detect organics.

"A key hurdle that we need to overcome is understanding how those organics may have been preserved over time, from the time they entered the rock to the time that we actually detect them," Curiosity scientist Jennifer Eigenbrode with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland says.

The rover is currently on the way to a three-mile high mound of layered rock rising form the floor of Gale Crater, a formation known as Mount Sharp.

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