Curiosity rover data may indicate a different past for Gale Crater

Curiosity rover data may indicate a different past for Gale Crater

In 2012, the Curiosity rover landed at Gale Crater on Mars to investigate the region’s geology and the possibility of life there in the distant past. The crater was not chosen by chance, as signs were identified that indicated the existence of a lake in the distant past – something reinforced by later data obtained by Curiosity. Now, a new study challenges these ideas and proposes another interpretation of the rover’s data, suggesting a very different past for the crater.

The Curiosity rover is now nine years old on Mars and during its stay on the Red Planet, it identified evidence of clay sediments that suggested the occurrence of an ancient lake there. Later, other signs were found—and this time they indicate that there was liquid water, so the mission team concluded that Gale Crater was home to a large lake in the past. For Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program, the lake may be large enough to exist for millions of years.

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Gale Crater, with the Curiosity rover landing area highlighted (Image: Reproduction/NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS)

In addition, he also believed that this period would be enough for life to develop and prosper, and for sediment to accumulate and form a structure called Mt. Spicy. It is a geological formation at the center of a 5 km high crater that Curiosity is currently climbing. This is where the study comes in with a new interpretation of the data obtained by the rover about the crater’s possible past.

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Led by Jiacheng Liu of the University of Hong Kong, the authors propose that while the sediments were likely deposited in an ancient lake, most of them do not appear to have originated from a single lake. The liquid water may have interacted and caused some wear on the compounds, but this process also may not have occurred specifically in the lake. According to the authors, most of the sediment deposits examined by Curiosity would have been brought into the crater through wind and/or volcanic activity, and then replaced by acid rain.

For Joe Michalsky, Liu’s doctoral advisor, the data collected by the rover showed that Gale Crater contained several small lakes, which may have lasted some tens of thousands of years. So, if the authors and Michalsky are correct—remembering that neither of them is a member of the Curiosity mission—it may be harder for the crater to have life than previously thought, because the larger it is and the longer it takes. Stays till. suited for life. , there is a high probability of some complex formation occurring.

Selfie of the Curiosity rover, which has reached a nine-year search on Mars (Image: reproduction/NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

This interpretation also proposes that the crater is a better representation of a Mars-like past, rather than an anomalous region, as previously thought. “This means that we can understand environmental conditions more broadly by looking at something more general,” Michalsky explained. it is possible for him rover persistence, Curiosity’s “cousins” investigating Jezero Crater bring a little more clarity to the Gale Crater issue.

Currently, it is believed that there was a river delta in Jezero Crater – so much so that the rover gathered Today the first soil sample in the state. Michalsky believes that there certainly was a large lake there, but it was only temporary. “I suspect the sediment will be different,” he said. “So we can look at the two in parallel and say ‘here’s what we see in a lake and here’s what we see in a gale; and they don’t look alike,'” he concluded.

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The article with the results of the study was published in Science Advances Magazine.


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About the author: Raven Weber

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