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Curiosity rover discovers evidence of water on Ancient Mars

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 28th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Curiosity rover has found conclusive proof that water at one time existed on the Red Planet. The rover, which touched down to begin its mission on August 6, has found land formations which suggest that Mars was at one time a host of rivers, lakes and streams.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The 2,000-pound super-rover has sent back imagery of a rock outcrop that has been dubbed Hottah, after Hottah Lake in Canada's Northwest Territories. Lead scientist John Grotzinger has likened it as if someone took a jackhammer and lifted up a sidewalk.

The consensus is that "this is a rock that was formed in the presence of water," Grotzinger said. "We can characterize that water as being a vigorous flow."

Curiosity has also come across rounded gravels, which appear to have been subjected to a sediment transport process, carried by either water or wind. The gravels seem too large to have been transported by wind, meaning it's likely that this is a stream bed.

Link, a second rock outcrop holds similar evidence. Scientists used data from Curiosity and the orbiters at Mars to enhance their understanding of the area. The water flowing in these rock formations was probably somewhere between ankle and hip deep.

Scientists believe the water and sediment flowed down the crater into an alluvial fan -- a geological formation created by material that water transports. This fan appears to have extended down to the area where the rover landed.

An estimate of when water actually flowed on Mars would be "thousands to millions of years," researchers said.

Scientists have previously used data from past Mars missions to speculate about channels on the planet, and whether water could have flowed in them, the first direct observation of streambed material.

One factoid makes the Curiosity team feel yet even curiouser and curiouser: There are no plate tectonics on Mars, meaning the planet does not have moving plates underneath the surface that cause quakes. So why does this Hottah rock formation look the way it does?

Grotzinger says that "Somewhere near this outcrop, a small impact occurred and lifted the beds up and rotated them," he said.

Scientists made their judgments about the rocks strictly based on photos.

Curiosity is now three-quarters of the way between Hottah and Glenelg, its next stop. Glenelg was chosen as a target because it has three types of terrain, including layered bedrock, making it a potentially interesting place for Curiosity to try out its drill.

One unsolved mystery -- whether life could have been supported on Mars remains elusive. Water is a necessary ingredient, but an energy source and carbon are also essential.

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