A study published Thursday confirmed that the cracks identified on Mars’ surface last year by the Curiosity rover are indeed evidence of ancient lakes that likely dried up about 3.5 billion years ago. The new study provides further evidence of what the climate on the Red Planet may have been like in its ancient past.
The study, published online in Geology, proved that cracks on Mars’ surface previously photographed by Curiosity are indeed desiccation mudcracks which could have only been formed when wet sediment was exposed to the air. This conclusion was based on an analysis of a single area of rock known as “Old Soaker.”
Researchers used the Curiosity rover and data from its many tools, particularly the Mars Hand Lens Imager, ChemCam Laser Induced Breakdown Spectrometer (LIBS) and the Alpha-Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) to study both the physical appearance and the chemistry of the rock, which is described as no bigger than a coffee table.
The analysis revealed that cracks on the rocks were formed by exposure to air, rather than heat or the flow of water. In addition, the shape of the cracks suggests the occurrence of a single drying event on the planet, rather than multiple cycles of the planet getting wet and drying over. The position of the cracks, closer to the center of the ancient lake rather than along the edges, also suggests that the lake levels changed often, rising and falling dramatically over time.
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SOURCE: Newsweek, Dana Dovey