New data sent by NASA’s Curiosity rover show sediments left by an ancient lake or several successive lakes that formed inside Gale crater more than three billion years ago. NASA scientists say that these lakes also formed Mount Sharp, the giant mountain inside the Martian crater.
Scientists say the new findings reveal that Mars was once warmer and wetter so it had plenty of lakes on its surface for tens of millions of years – a sufficient time span to let basic life forms sprout out of nothing.
Curiosity mission holds as its main goal the exploration and data gathering about the 96-mile-wide Gale Crater, the rover’s landing site in August 2012. Mount Sharp is a three-mile-high mountain located at the center of the Martian crater. Curiosity showed that this mountain was made of several clay minerals that needed water to form.
From previous explorations, NASA’s robotic rover gathered enough evidence about ancient rivers flowing towards the crater and feeding a static lake inside the basin. This lake, scientists believe, was also a good environment for sheltering microbial life.
Several pictures of rock layers oriented towards Mount Sharp show that this mountain was formed through sedimentation during millions of years. The sediment was brought by the rivers and seasonal streams that were constantly feeding the ancient lake. The rover also found traces of small ancient deltas that support the theory.
“The puzzle pieces are coming together, and we are now able to answer two big questions about Gale Crater. How did Mount Sharp form, and how long was there water to support microbial life?,”
Michael Meyer, one of the NASA’s researchers, said.
NASA researchers also suggest that the ancient rivers needed millions of years to gather all the sediment needed to build Mount Sharp.
“Looking at the size of the lake in Gale Crater, and the length of the time … that water was showing up, that implies that there may have been sufficient time for life to get going and thrive,”
When asked how long it took for organic building blocks to be able to sprout living microorganisms, Dr Meyer said that this was also a question very hard to answer about Earth too, all the more about a distant planet.
Additionally, scientists believe that Mars had once an ocean, to support long enough Red Planet’s humid environment and complex hydrologic system. But they hope to find further details about water on Mars while Curiosity continues the Gale crater’s exploration.