Two years ago, NASA’s Curiosity rover landed in an area called the Gale Crater. They choose this location because it was deemed to be the best area to have once been able to support microbial life. In a teleconference this afternoon, NASA has announced that new scientific evidence supports the long-standing hypothesis that Gale Crater once held a large body of water, and quite possibly for millions of years.
The lead scientist of the Mars Exploration Program, Michael Meyer, says that the Gale crater “had the right ingredients and environment to have been able to support microbial life.” The new evidence released today says that the 96-mile-diameter crater has a base of sediment which once supported the presence of water.
Using Curiosity’s on-board cameras and instruments, it was able to examine multiple layers of the crater’s surface – an area created some 4 billion years ago by a possible asteroid impact. The team was able to determine that the ancient lake was around long enough to create multiple cycles of river and delta migrations similar to how lakes are formed on Earth.
These findings also help shed light on what Mars’ climate was once like. For the planet to have supported a body of water this large for millions of years the climate system “must have been loaded with water,” according to deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada.
What’s next for Curiosity?
It will now resume drilling to look further into what comprises the base of Gale crater.
When it’s not digging and examining the sediment it will drive around taking photos of the surrounding area.