In its more than a decade of exploring Gale Crater on Mars, the rover Curiosity has found innumerable signs of the presence of long-ago water.
There have been fossil streams, alluvial fans, lakes shallow and deep, deltas and countless examples of rocks infiltrated and chemically transformed in the presence of water. The picture of the crater as a watery environment in the warmer and wetter days of Martian history — 4 billion to 3 billion years ago — is well established.
Nonetheless. it still came as a wonder that the rover came across the entirely unexpected remains of fossilized ripples in a shallow lake bed. What was even more surprising is that it was found in an area previously determined to have little likelihood of having ever been wet.
“Billions of years ago, waves on the surface of a shallow lake stirred up sediment at the lake bottom, over time creating rippled textures left in rock,” NASA said in a statement last week.
It was the first time such a feature has been discovered in Gale Crater, although the rover has passed through numerous fossil lake beds.
One of the mission’s main goals has been to find out if this area in the southern highlands of Mars might have once been habitable for microbial life.
It was determined within the first two years of the rover’s time in Gale Crater that the crater was indeed once habitable based on the past presence of significant amounts of water and chemicals left behind by that long-departed water. Understanding the crater’s history of water has been a central goal of the mission.
The Curiosity team was thrilled by their new find.
“This is the best evidence of water and waves that we’ve seen in the entire mission,” said Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada. “We climbed through thousands of feet of lake deposits and never saw evidence like this.”
The rippled fossils are in an area set off by a black, hard-rock line called the “Marker Band.”… Read more