Curiosity rover data may point to a different past for the Gale Crater

Curiosity rover data may point to a different past for the Gale Crater

In 2012, the Curiosity rover landed in 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, since signs that there was a lake there were identified in the distant past – something that Curiosity’s later data corroborated. Now, a new study challenges these considerations and suggests another interpretation of the rover data, which points to a very different past of the crater.

The Curiosity spacecraft is now nine years old on the surface of Mars, and during its stay on the Red Planet, it has identified evidence of muddy deposits indicating an ancient lake there. Later, other signs were found – this time apparently indicating the presence of liquid water, so the expedition team concluded that Gale Crater was once home to a large lake. For Michael Meyer, chief scientist for the Mars Exploration Program, the lake could be large enough to live for millions of years.

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Gale crater, highlighting Curiosity’s landing area (Image: Reproduction/NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS)

In addition, it was also considered that this period would be enough for life to develop and flourish, and for sediments to accumulate and form a structure called a mountain. Sharp. It is a geological formation in the center of the crater, with a height of 5 km, that Curiosity is currently climbing. This is where the study comes in with the new interpretation of data obtained by the rover about the crater’s likely past.

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

For Joe Michalsky, Liu’s PhD advisor, data collected by the rover showed that Gale Crater had several small lakes, which must have lasted for tens of thousands of years at most. So, if the authors and Michalsky are correct—remember that none of them are members of the Curiosity mission—it may be more difficult for a crater to live in the crater than previously thought, because the larger it is and the longer the environment will survive. Conducive to life, the higher the chances that some complex structures will appear there.

A portrait of Curiosity, which has already reached its nine-year exploration of Mars (Image: Reproduction/NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

This interpretation also suggests that the crater is a better representation of what Mars was like in the past, rather than a paradoxical region, as previously thought. “This means we can understand environmental conditions more broadly by looking at something more common,” Michalsky explained. For him, it could be perseverance rover Curiosity’s “cousin” investigating Jezero crater brings clarity to the Gale crater case.

Currently, it is believed that there is a river delta in Jezero crater – so much so that the rover collected The first soil sample in the area today. Michalsky thinks there was definitely a big lake there, but it was only temporary. “I think the sediments will be different,” he said. “So we can look at the two in parallel and say ‘This is what we see in Lake and this is what we see in Gale;’ And they don’t look alike.”

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


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