NASA’s Curiosity rover has found evidence that lakes once occupied an unexpected region of Mars.
The US space agency reported the discovery of wavy rock textures, suggesting large bodies of water existed in an area scientists thought was drier.
“This is the best evidence of water and waves we saw in the entire mission,” said one of the researchers.
Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity project scientist at Nasa‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California said the rover had previously climbed through thousands of feet of lake deposits “and had never seen evidence like this”.
Since 2014, Curiosity has been cruising the foothills of Mount Sharp, a three-mile high mountain that was once covered in streams and lakes.
The mountain is made up of layers, the oldest at the bottom and the youngest at the top, meaning Curiosity effectively travels through time in its attempt to study the planet’s history.
Ancient March was much closer to Earth, with a warmer climate and lots of water, but now it’s a freezing desert.
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The newly discovered undulating rock textures were found nearly half a mile above the base of the mountain, preserved in a thin layer of dark rock that stands out from the rest of the mountain.
It’s so hard that the rover couldn’t break through it.
Wavy rock textures are a sign of water because billions of years ago the waves on the surface of a shallow lake would have stirred up the sediments at the bottom – over time, creating the ripple effect .
NASA says the area would have provided a rich environment for microorganisms, if any existed.
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Scientists are hoping to find more dark rocks soft enough to drill into, but the intrepid rover has also spotted other evidence of water elsewhere.
In a valley called Gediz Vallis, debris has been spotted that was washed away by wet landslides on Mount Sharp, including boulders scientists suspect were the size of cars.
Mr Vasavada said it was ‘probably the most recent water proof we will ever see’.
It is hoped that Curiosity – which has remained operational after more than 10 years on the planet’s surface – will get another look at the valley later this year while continuing to monitor Mount Sharp.
Meanwhile, its successor, the Perseverance rover, is also hard at work on the Red Planet – last week it completed construction of a rock repository that will help send samples back to Earth.