New data from NASA’s Curiosity rover indicate the red planet’s Gale Crater once contained a massive lake and that Mount Sharp, the mountain at the center of the 96-mile-wide crater, formed from the build-up of sediment over tens of millions of years. This suggests that Mars may have been a much wetter than previously thought.
The new finding suggests that large, long-lasting lakes once dotted the Martian landscape, increasing the possibility that the planet was once habitable.
Curiosity collected the new data on its five-mile drive to Mount Sharp, the prime destination on its mission to study Mars’ climate and geography. The rover landed in Gale Crater in August 2012.
In March, scientists discovered that the crater contained beds of sandstone that were tilted south toward Mount Sharp. They believed these rocks were deposited by streams that fed into a larger body of water in the center of the crater.
After reaching Mount Sharp in September, the rover spent two months studying rocks in the Murray formation at the base of the three-mile-high mountain, discovering fine layers of mudstone–which tend to collect at the bottom of lakes.
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