Fantastic Mars images reveal the planet’s sensational past

Images from NASA’s Curiosity mission may reveal evidence of climate change on Mars that includes the drying up of a former water surface.

The findings were announced last week in a statement from NASA regarding Curiosity’s decades-long mission.

“We no longer see the lake deposits we saw for years lower on Mount Sharp,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s project researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

“Instead, we see a lot of evidence of drier climates, such as dry dunes that sometimes had streams flowing around them. It is a big change from the lakes that lasted for maybe millions of years before,” he added.

The statement noted that over the past year, the Curiosity rover has traveled over a transition area from a “clayey region” to an area filled with sulfate. The observations can provide an overview of an ancient shift in the red planet’s climate change.

Images of finger-like rocks have also supported the likelihood of groundwater moving through certain areas of Mars.

“They were probably formed billions of years ago when groundwater moved through and left minerals. In the Martian atmosphere, the wind eroded the softer parts and left the harder pieces,” Curiosity Rover’s Twitter account observed next to an example in one image.

Curiosity’s mission has already revealed images that support the notion that ancient Mars experienced a climate that may have included long-lasting lakes.

In 2014, the Gale Crater survey suggested that the water and sediment flow may have been massive enough to build the 30-mile-high Mount Sharp.

“If our Mount Sharp hypothesis holds, it challenges the notion that hot and wet conditions were transient, local or just underground on Mars,” Vasavada said of the earlier findings.

“A more radical explanation is that Mars’ ancient, thicker atmosphere raised the temperature above freezing globally, but so far we do not know how the atmosphere did it,” he added.

In 2013, NASA observed sedimentary rocks that led to the suggestion that Mars once held fresh water. Pictures in 2012 also observed small rocks that looked like they had been smoothed and shaped by water.

A lot of speculation was circulating online after one Curiosity image appeared to show a “door” on Mars. However, NASA has noticed that the image captured a natural geological feature, despite the well-known door-like appearance.

The discussion about water on Mars is not limited to the Curiosity mission. NASA has been examining evidence of ancient water on the planet since the 1970s.

“Scientists have been tracking traces of ancient water over Mars since the 1970s, when orbiters uncovered branched valley networks that matched the dendritic shape of water-eroded valleys on Earth,” Science Magazine reported. “In the 1990s, the Mars Global Surveyor zoomed in on deep-cut ravines that could only have been cut out by powerful water currents – and may even have seen shorelines from an ancient ocean.”