Watery science ‘jackpot’ discovered by Curiosity
The Curiosity rover hit the science “jackpot” and has discovered widespread further evidence of multiple episodes of liquid water flowing over ancient Mars billions of years ago when the planet was warmer and wetter, scientists announced. The watery evidence comes in the form of water bearing mineral veins, cross-bedded layering, nodules and spherical sedimentary concretions.
Delighted researchers said Curiosity surprisingly found lots of evidence for light-toned chains of linear mineral veins inside fractured rocks littering the highly diverse Martian terrain – using her array of ten state-of-the-art science instruments. Veins form when liquid water circulates through fractures and deposit minerals, gradually filling the insides of the fractured rocks over time.
Shortly after landing the team took a calculated gamble and decided to take a several months long detour away from the main destination of the towering, sedimentary mountain named Mount Sharp, and instead drive to an area dubbed ‘Glenelg’ and home to ‘Yellowknife Bay’, because it sits at the junction of a trio of different geologic terrains. Glenelg exhibits high thermal inertia and helps put the entire region in better scientific context. The gamble has clearly payed off.
The Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument found elevated levels of calcium, sulfur and hydrogen. Hydrogen is indicative of water. The mineral veins are probably comprised of calcium sulfate – which exists in several hydrated (water bearing) forms.
Curiosity will be instructed to drive over the veins to try and break them up and expose fresh surfaces for analysis. Then she will drill directly into a vein and hopefully catch some of the surrounding material as well.
“This will reveal the mineralogy of the vein filling material and how many hydrated mineral phases are present. The main goal is this will give us an assessment of the habitability of this environment.”
Image credit: NASA