Years of data collected by NASA's Curiosity rover could change the history of water on Mars and the likelihood of the Red Planet hosting life in the past.
Curiosity arrived at Gale Crater on Aug. 6, 2012, and has since been studying the probably dried-up lake. A new examination of Curiosity's previous data, however, reveals that the ancient basin may not have been as wet as scientists once thought.
After examining the data, researchers from The University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Science's Department of Earth Sciences proposed that the sediments measured by the rover over the majority of the mission did not develop in a lake.
The research team hypothesized that the majority of the sedimentary deposits in Gale Crater were not lake sediments. They could have been windblown sediments that formed in the open air.
Initially, the Curiosity rover discovered clay, mineral-rich sediment similar to that found in lakes on Earth. Water and wind brought sediment to Gale Crater, where it filled the crater floor. Wind shaped the stratified granite into Mount Sharp after the sediment hardened.
Although Mars is currently cold and inhospitable, it may have once had flowing rivers and bodies of water. Water sculpted out Mars' surface and filled its craters, transforming them into lakes.
The Gale Crater, a vast impact basin with a towering mountain known as Mount Sharp at its center, is one example.
Mount Sharp appeared to cross the boundary between warm, hot Mars and cold, dry Mars, therefore it was chosen as the Curiosity rover's destination.
According to the authors of the new study, a small part of the Gale Crater deposits formed billions of years ago by interacting with liquid water, while the rest of the sediments formed by traveling with Martian winds and arriving at the crater.
The study indicated that the sedimentary layers created in Gale Crater were most likely formed by flying dust or volcanic ash.
The new findings impart credence to the theory that Mars was never completely wet, but rather experienced transient damp periods. As a result, with water being one of the primary ingredients for life on a planet, this has significant implications for the possibility of ancient life on Mars.
The finding was published in the journal Science Advances.