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Ancient river found on Mars

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It seems that Curiosity, a Martian rover, managed to find evidence that proves that there used to be a lot of water on the Red Planet. The discovery means that that there could be life on Mars as well. The images obtained with the help of telemetry show a river channel or streams among rocks. Researchers are studying the images, trying to determine the parameters of an ancient water reservoir.

The launch of Curiosity took place on 26 November 2011, within the framework of NASA’s long-term Mars Exploration program with the use of Mars Exploration Program robotic probes. The project also involves the California Institute of Technology and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Doug McCuistion, a NASA official from the department for the exploration of other planets, supervises the project, the total cost of which is evaluated at approximately $2.5 billion.

Curiosity is a standalone chemical laboratory, whose mission is to study the planet to search for traces of life even in the form of microorganisms. In a few months, the rover will travel from 5 to 20 miles to conduct a full analysis of the Martian soil and atmosphere.

NASA decided to send the probe to the area of the Gale crater, in a funnel of which one could see deeper layers of the Martian soil. The soil in the crater can be the key to the geological mystery of the Red Planet. The discovered river channel is situated between the field to the north of the crater and the foot of Mount Sharp. According to experts, the size and shape of the rocks of the river channel can give scientists an idea of the length of the river and the speed of the water that was flowing in it.

“The shapes tell you they were transported, and the sizes tell you they couldn’t be transported by wind. They were transported by water flow,” said Curiosity scientist Rebecca Williams.

“This is the first time we’re actually seeing water-transported gravel on Mars,” said Curiosity science co-investigator William Dietrich of the University of California, Berkeley.

Back in 2006, MARSIS radar found considerable accumulations of watery ice beneath the surface of the planet, not only at the poles. In particular, ice fills a meteorite crater about 250 kilometers in diameter, situated near the Chryse Planitia. Last year, experts from Germany found channel-like tracks on the slopes of a Martian canyon in Melas Chasma area, on the bottom of which sulfate compounds were found. The compounds are usually produced from oxidation by water. This led the scientists to conclude that there used to be a large sea in that area.

Scientists believe that water existed on Mars not only in frozen, but in the liquid state as well. Volcanoes melt the ice underneath the surface of the planet, and the water flowed out. Some time later, the water began to evaporate, as testified by sulfate compounds discovered on the planet.

A group of geologists and astrobiologists from the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center found mysterious dark stripes on satellite images of mountain slopes located in the Southern Hemisphere. The stripes increase in size in spring and summer seasons and disappear again for winter. This led NASA officials to assume that streams of salt water may appear on the Martian surface during the warmer period. Such environment is favorable for the breeding of halobacteria.

Scientists believe that if there is water on Mars, it is salty. Geophysicist Phil Christensen says: “We knew that there was ice on Mars, but this is the first time when we obtained the evidence showing that there is water on the planet, most likely salty, yet liquid. This is a key to everything. Water is vital for living organisms.

Now the research team is waiting for samples from Mars to study the material. Most likely, it will be clay and sulfates, which may theoretically contain elements of organic matter. Should organic matter be found, it would mean that there could be life on the planet, at least in the old days.


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