Science Sunday: Water on Mars Edition
Any of you who have been paying attention to science news over the last few days will probably have heard what the Curiosity rover has been discovering on Mars. You know, that distant planet it’s basically live streaming data from. You may have been misled by the title, as water (sadly) hasn’t been discovered there. What has been found, however, is evidence that fast-flowing water once covered at least part of the planet’s surface.
Mars is a source of great interest for astronomers as the most Earth-like planet in the solar system, and as that most suitable for microbial life- not to mention the easiest to get to (well… take easy as a relative term).
So they sent Curiosity on a mission to transmit more information about the Red Planet than has ever been possible before. The car-sized rover is a little moving chemistry lab (ALSO LASER) which collects and transmits data to waiting scientists back at NASA.
All of the information collected so far has been fairly fascinating- but the newest and most interesting info has been considered confirmation that there was once water on Mars. Analysis of a slab of rock near the impact site of Curiosity has indicated that a fast-moving stream of water once flowed there. Comparisons between the images of this rock and comparable sites on Earth show a striking similarity. It has been suggested that the rock would once have been the floor of an ancient stream between ankle and knee-depth. Although the discovery is not a total surprise, it acts as confirmation of a long-held belief, and boosts the likelihood of finding more amazing discoveries on other areas of the planet.
The purpose of the $2.5billion Curiosity project is actually the analysis of a 3-mile high mound of layered rock over Gale Crater, as this sort of ground can provide the most insight into the planet’s past. The last astrobiology mission involved the Viking probes of the 1970s, and today’s technology is so advanced that nobody knows exactly what will be found. However, this discovery adds excitement and a sense of hope to the Curiosity mission, so it’s definitely something everyone should keep an eye on!
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons