Tuesday, June 3, 2014

NASA Mars Curiosity Rover discovers evidence that water once flowed on Mars

Curiosity is finding evidence that water once flowed on Mars, an indication that life could have once existed on the planet. 

Credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

After traveling 354 million miles and surviving a nail-biting descent to the surface of Mars, the Curiosity rover is finding that the Red Planet was once a lot like the Blue Planet.

Curiosity's exploration of Mars' barren landscape is revealing signs that water once flowed freely and that life could have existed on the planet.

"Our findings are showing that Mars is a planet that was once a whole lot like Earth," said UC Davis geology professor Dawn Sumner, co-investigator for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory team, which is exploring whether the planet ever had an environment capable of supporting microbial life.

Liquid water disappeared from Mars' surface millions of years ago, leaving behind tantalizing clues about the planet's ancient past—clues that Sumner has been deciphering since the rover landed in August 2012.

Sumner is working from Curiosity mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena while on sabbatical from UC Davis.

She helped choose which parts of the planet Curiosity should investigate. And she helps lead the team that analyzes the rocks and other geologic elements that the rover encounters.

"All the rocks we've seen on this mission are sediments that have been deposited by water," Sumner said. "We've found almost no sandstone deposited by wind."

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