NASA's Curiosity Rover Finds Evidence of a Long Lost Lake on Mars
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has discovered that a 96-mile-wide crater on the Red Planet was once host to a lake, and further analysis showed that Mars was once suitable for the rise and persistence of microbial life.
Curiosity has been collecting data on Mars for the past two-and-a-half years, particularly the Gale Crater, a huge cavity that houses a three-mile-high mountain called Mount Sharp. Today, NASA scientists released the discovery of an "incline strata," or sediment beds that are inclined towards Mount Sharp. This indicates that the mound formed over millions of years of water depositing sediments in the crater. They hypothesize that strong winds eroded the deposits over time, creating the mountain seen today.
"We are beginning to think that maybe Mount Sharp formed in a series of episodes involving sedimentation and erosion, stacked by different processes," said lead Curiosity scientist John Grotzinger.
Their data further indicates that Gale Crater underwent countless cycles of wet and dry times over tens of millions of years. While scientists already had evidence that liquid water existed on Mars at one point, this sustained period of filling and draining makes it more likely that liquid water was present for long enough that microbial life could form.
"The size of the lake in Gale Crater and the length of time and series that water was showing up implies that there may have been sufficient time for life to get going and thrive," said NASA's Mars Exploration Program scientist Michael Meyer.
These studies have not yet been released, and detractors could very well argue that the sediment deposits were not made over a sustained period of time, but rather in period bursts that lasted for a relatively short period of time. Furthermore, it's difficult to know how long Mars's wet period would need to be in order for microbial life to form, as we currently do not know how long it took to form on Earth. However, if the research does extend Mars's wet period for many millions of years, the likelihood is vastly increased that recognizable life existed on the Red Planet at one time.