Curiosity finds remains of flowing stream on Mars

The rover has sent back the first ever images from Mars that show this type of geological feature

by Kieron Allen
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This rock outcrop, Hottah, was one of the sites which showed signs of an ancient Martian stream.

NASA's Curiosity rover has discovered the remains of an ancient stream that once flowed across the Martian surface.

The discovery comes from examining two outcrops, Hottah and Link, which lie between the north rim of Gale Crater and the base of Mount Sharp, close to Curiosity's landing site.

Although evidence of water has been uncovered on the Red Planet before, this is the first time images of rocks containing ancient streambed gravel have been captured.

"From the size of gravels it carried, we can interpret the water was moving at just under one metre per second, with a depth somewhere between ankle and hip deep", said Curiosity science co-investigator William Dietrich.

The size of the rocks range from that of a grain of sand to a golf ball, with some angular, but many rounded, which tells scientists they were definitely transported by water flow and not the wind.

A stream like this could quite well have been a habitable environment on Mars.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS and PSI
The rock outcrops seen by Curiosity are very simialr to those found on Earth.

Meanwhile it seems Curiosity may be experiencing a Martian heat wave, with weather reports from the rover’s Remote Environment Monitoring Station (REMS) showing daytime temperatures of up to 6°C, surprisingly hot for this time of year. "If this warm trend carries on into summer, we might even be able to foresee temperatures in the 20s – and that would be really exciting from a habitability point of view", said Dr Felipe Gómez of the Centro de Astrobiología.

Curiosity will continue its primary mission to Mount Sharp where it is hoped clay and sulphate minerals, detected there from orbit, could contain carbon-based organic chemicals, the potential ingredients for life.

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