Curiosity Has Found A Riverbed On Mars

NASA's Curiosity rover has found evidence of an ancient riverbed on Mars. While it's now dried up, it's the first ever evidence to prove that running water once poured over the surface of the red planet. This is huge.

The picture above shows a rocky outcrop which a team of NASA scientists has named "Hottah", after Hottah Lake in Canada's Northwest Territories. It doesn't seem much, but what you're looking at is exposed bedrock, the kind that you find at the bottom of a river.

The bedrock itself is made up of smaller fragments of rock cemented together -- what geologists call a sedimentary conglomerate. In the past, it would have looked flat but the scientists think it must have been disrupted, maybe by meteorites, to give it a slant. The site lies between the north rim of Gale Crater and the base of Mount Sharp.

But the main evidence suggesting that this is a riverbed is... gravel. NASA scientists have been studying images of the stones cemented into the rock, and their size and shape points to the fact that this used to be a fast-flowing stream. The pieces of gravel are particularly round, which suggests that they've been transported long distances by water; at up to a few centimetres in size, they're definitely too big to have been moved by wind. William Dietrich of the University of California, Berkeley, explains:

"From the size of gravels it carried, we can interpret the water was moving about three feet (0.91m) per second, with a depth somewhere between ankle and hip deep... This is the first time we're actually seeing water-transported gravel on Mars. This is a transition from speculation about the size of streambed material to direct observation of it."

Amazing: a hip-deep river, right there on Mars. The next step is for Curiosity to measure the elemental composition of the materials to try and get a better understanding of what the environment used to be like. Of course, where there's water, there could've been life. Mars Science Laboratory Project Scientist John Grotzinger explains:

"A long-flowing stream can be a habitable environment. It is not our top choice as an environment for preservation of organics, though. We're still going to Mount Sharp, but this is insurance that we have already found our first potentially habitable environment."

While there's still plenty for Curiosity to do, this new finding confirms that streams and rivers once flowed on Mars. The implications that has for the one-time existence of life on Mars are huge. [NASA]

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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    Ya man. maybe some microbial life existed on Mars in the past. Green aliens were never there. Mars is a dead desolate planet. Let's seed it with extremophiles which can exist in extremes of temperatures. Mars has thin atmosphere - 5% that of the earth and CO2 mostly. I heard Asperigus can grow there and possibly other plants.

    Imagine the look on Nasa faces when they saw this. This is huge for humankind.

    Awesome news!

    So what? There is absolutely no possibility of this being some other liquid or dense gas flow? Or some other sedimentation process?

      My thought also.

      Why did it have to be 'water'? Could have been any other liquid, or even a gas denser than Mars' thin atmosphere.

    Not convincing.
    So pebbles were found. Considering that the ancient atmosphere of Mars was far thicker than today, the "fluid" that carried them could have just as well been liquid carbon dioxide. They may very well have been rounded by wind. Even if water was involved it was likely to be merely a brief episode in a long dry history of Mars.

    Many, many years of follow on observation and research are required to determine if this discovery really has anything more than geological significance.

    Big? I very much doubt it.


      Nope. Most likely water. Liquid CO2 can't exist below about 5x atmospheric pressure on Earth (518kPa to be exact). Even if it's pressure was more than it is now, Mars would have to be a hell of a lot bigger for it to have that much atmospheric pressure.

        its really great to hear the input from people that are smarter than NASA scientists

    Great news maybe they could now look for verterbrates or micro life starter creatures remnants of lfe may not look like what one might think..

    they need to send an automated drilling rig . only finding water will prove water on mars

      Um ... they have found it. Years ago. It has polar ice caps.

    Yea Science!

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