Mars Curiosity Rover Finds Proof of Flowing Water—A First

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NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has made its first major science discovery, and it’s one for the ages.


Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, announced Thursday that water—fast-running and relatively deep—once coursed over Mars’s now bone-dry surface, a finding based on the presence of rounded pebbles and gravel near the rover’s landing site in Gale Crater.

What’s more, the researchers estimate that the water was present for thousands to millions of years.

The finding represents the first proof that surface water once ran on Mars. Planetary scientists have hypothesized that the cut canyons and riverlike beds photographed by Mars satellites had been created by running water, but only now do they have on-the-ground confirmation—and the promise of learning much more about the nature and duration of the water flows.

Written By: Marc Kaufman
continue to source article at news.nationalgeographic.com

27 COMMENTS

  1. Outstanding!

    Next step, life!

    Then after that, oil!

    I don’t mean that to sound as sinister as it does lol, but if they found oil on Mars it would be the start of a whole new space race/technology boom. Not that I actually believe there was sufficient, if any, organic matter to leave viable oil deposits.

  2. The announcement should come with a disclaimer this does not mean Percival Lowell actually saw canals constructed by intelligent beings.

    I am holding my breath hoping they find some ancient DNA.  

    If it looks like ours it suggests life is like dandelions.

    If it does not look like ours, it suggest life arises spontaneously easily.

    Either way it will imply life is likely common.

    It might kick the gas out of human vanity, much the way the Copernican understanding did.

  3.  Erm, I didn’t actually mean alive life ^^ I meant evidence of life e.g. fossils, but you are of course dead right, perhaps jumping a little ahead of myself and acceptable science there, ok a lot.

  4. What I would like to know is what happened to the SAM measurement of atmospheric Martian methane conducted over  a month ago?

    At the time the scuttlebutt suggested a week of data analysis would be enough to present the findings!

    I heard a throwaway comment by one of the team a three weeks  or so ago that further samples were to be attempted to give baseline measurement and to give context to the first sample.

    They have gone suspiciously quite on that front.

    Earth and orbital research reports methane blooms on a cyclic timetable, somewhere in the PPM, SAM can detect in the PPB ratio…

    http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_

    So either they got a spike and consider they are on the money or they got  a zilch and feel rather deflated.

    Now it is without doubt that a report that documents a higher then expected background spike at ground level would send the blogosphere into orbit along with a substantial percentage of the scientific fraternity.
    The clamour would be deafening and rather chaotic from all sorts of view points.
    Maybe they are just being very circumspect and really want to nail the numbers in stone that they see, because a significant methane signature would be game over in some quarters…’we got ‘em’ might be the collective mantra.
    Exobiology comes of age.

    I think that a negative result on SAM would have leaked out by now probably with a ‘early days, calibration not optimal, data drop out etc etc’ kind of response…but the silence is deafening methinks.
    Presumably they are re-sniffing as they go as a confirmational protocol…they seemingly want to be damned sure and fair do’s that is science being performed as it should be but the silence, almost a black out, is rather odd!

    I think they got a result that exonerates Viking and the recent methane glimpses from orbit and earth.

    If so that is major science and probably the discovery not just of the century but of all time, it means that the likelihood is that life is there today because the only other mechanism is geological tectonic volcano related chemical release , and Martian studies consider geologically Mars is a dead duck. further it means we are not alone and it means that life is not special it means that life is inevitable.

    Be interesting to see the fundies organizing a mission to Mars to go and convert a few to Yahweh!

    But I concede that there is always the possibility that SAM got nada…that would be rather disappointing methinks.
    Somehow I think, or rather hope is a better word, that this is not all that was wrote.

  5. Hi Val,

    I’m all agog at what you say.I understand that life on earth has only appeared once. Though I suppose it must be possible that it  appeared here on other occasions without surviving to reach the notice of scientists.Either way, does this not indicate the extreme unlikelihood of spontaneous natural generation of life anywhere?

  6.  

    does this not indicate the extreme unlikelihood of spontaneous natural generation of life anywhere?

    Well no I would think is the answer to that, why should it?
    If anything the opposite is indicated, that life can arise almost anywhere the environmental conditions permit.

    The challenge is to work out what the parameters and minimum conditions required actually are.
    Seems the consensus opinion that held sway even just a few decades ago was at best naive and at worst arrogant.

    One very interesting point about the Viking data is that it seemed to flow against expectations at that time.
    It was discounted on the basis that folks did not expect it and saw signatures of chemicals that required a deeper chemistry then they were prepared to speculate on or even admit was possible, Phoenix showed them the error of that assumption quite spectacularly.
    In the light of Phoenix data Viking looked to be on the money!

    But Curiosity will settle the point in time, and the great settler, or at least the elephant in the room. will be a methane spike recorded above atmospheric trace.

  7. It seems the Rover has found a sedimentary rock layer made of sand and gravel.

      http://science.nasa.gov/scienc

    Sept. 27, 2012: NASA’s Curiosity rover mission has found evidence a stream once ran vigorously across the area on Mars where the rover is driving. There is earlier evidence for the presence of water on Mars, but this evidence — images of rocks containing ancient streambed gravels — is the first of its kind.

    “From the size of gravels it carried, we can interpret the water was moving about 3 feet per second, with a depth somewhere between ankle and hip deep,” said Curiosity science co-investigator William Dietrich of the University of California, Berkeley. “Plenty of papers have been written about channels on Mars with many different hypotheses about the flows in them. This is the first time we’re actually seeing water-transported gravel on Mars. This is a transition from speculation about the size of streambed material to direct observation of it.” 

    The finding site lies between the north rim of Gale Crater and the base of Mount Sharp, a mountain inside the crater. Earlier imaging of the region from Mars orbit allows for additional interpretation of the gravel-bearing conglomerate. The imagery shows an alluvial fan of material washed down from the rim, streaked by many apparent channels, sitting uphill of the new finds.

    The rounded shape of some stones in the conglomerate indicates long-distance transport from above the rim, where a channel named Peace Vallis feeds into the alluvial fan. The abundance of channels in the fan between the rim and conglomerate suggests flows continued or repeated
    over a long time, not just once or for a few years.

     

    NASA’s Mars rover, Curiosity finds gravel left by vigorous stream – http://economictimes.indiatime

    http://science.nasa.gov/media/

    http://economictimes.indiatime

  8.  

    papa lazaru  - 

    Anyone seen or heard ‘tantalising clues’ on the news just yet, or are we now past that threshold.

    This looks well past “clues”.   Rounding of pebbles is caused by abrasive rolling down stream beds or wave action rolling them on shore-lines.   To get them well rounded takes years.

    The size of the rounded pebbles, indicates the size of pebble the water can move, which in turn indicates the force, speed  and depth of the water.

  9. Can I just ask a question? And please tell me if its a stupid one, but how do they know if it was water on the surface of mars? It could have been a liquid of any sorts, even unknown to mankind. I understand that there is evidence of “rivers” and erosion but is it necessarily H2O?

    Just a thought.

  10. zappercom
    Can I just ask a question? And please tell me if its a stupid one, but how do they know if it was water on the surface of mars? It could have been a
    liquid of any sorts,

    There are rivers of methane on Titan where water is a rock at -170°c  – http://www.newscientist.com/ar

    http://www.newscientist.com/da

    But Mars has a CO2/N atmosphere with water ice and solid CO2 at the poles.  There is plenty of satellite data on this. – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A

    There are probably frozen lakes or seas under the dust on Mars, so there was water when it was warmer billions of years ago.

    Mars’s thin atmosphere, visible on the horizon in this low-orbit image – http://upload.wikimedia.org/wi

    Mars Pathfinder image of Martian sky with water ice clouds – http://upload.wikimedia.org/wi

  11. EvolutionaryThrowback
    I don’t mean that to sound as sinister as it does lol, but if they found oil on Mars it would be the start of a whole new space race/technology boom. Not that I actually believe there was sufficient, if any, organic matter to leave viable oil deposits.

    Oil on Mars seems unlikely, but there is a whole lot of natural gas (Methane) on Titan.  The snag, is not only is it a long way away, but you need oxygen to burn it – and there is only one planet with a copious supply of oxygen!  The inhabitants do need it to breathe, and burning methane generates CO2, but I’m sure a small problem like that would not be allowed to obstruct a profitable enterprise!

  12.  
    valhalla
    What I would like to know is what happened to the SAM measurement of atmospheric Martian methane conducted over  a month ago?

    I don’t know, but we should have a lot of detailed atmospheric information late next year!

    MAVEN: Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN – http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pa… - 

    NASA’s Mars Atmosphere And Volatile EvolutioN mission is officially authorized to transition into the next phase of the mission, system delivery, ..

    The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission, scheduled for launch in late 2013, will be the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere.

    The goal of MAVEN is to determine the role that loss of atmospheric gas to space played in changing the Martian climate through time. Where did the atmosphere – and the water – go?

    MAVEN will determine how much of the Martian atmosphere has been lost over time by measuring the current rate of escape to space and gathering enough information about the relevant processes to allow extrapolation backward in time.

  13. Yes indeed that is a good solid mission for the knowledge and example template of planetary evolution, and what can happen.

    But I think that the present Mars mission, Curiosity, can answer…or at least give a knowing wink…at the possibility of microbial life present on Mars now!

    The methane analysis would, if a spike was registered, would contain a method to indicate whether biological or geological processes were responsible.

    That is the grail …holy or other!
    Life on two planets in one solar system would be a revelation in statistical terms.
    Extend that to the Jovian and Saturnus locale and who needs Drakes equation?
    Life is teeming in the Galaxy…obviously I would say!
    Whether that is intelligent is neither here nor there…but it does up the possibility even if they are not parading around  Parliament square demanding equal rites for travellers!
    The research possibilities on the Martian critters are endless, and might suggest an extra-solar source, Panspermia not withstanding.

    It really is a sweet agony, knowing Nasa have analysed the atmosphere three times since they landed, I just find it a tad odd that after the first gulp they said after calibration and adjustment if required and fair enough but they said results would take a week 10 days to announce, but zilch so far, and they have done it twice since, what are they checking I wonder.
    Considering SAM is a suite of instruments all dedicated to such analysis, and it is basically a more advanced and supremely more powerful experimental package although identical in intent to the Viking science payload!
    Viking Mk 2 really!
    And after Phoenix dropped its analytical bombshell, it seems to suggest that indeed Viking was not that far off.
    A much criticized vague result at the time might well be on the money after all this time, Viking got it right first time a round, we just second guessed it out of the stadium!

    Trying to save some folks disappointment in no spike recorded would not unduly bother NASA after all the mission  is looking for conditions in the past that might have supported life.
    It would not detract one iota from this expensive tonka toy and its drunken meanderings because that finding although ginormous is not really part of Curiosity’s remit!
    The mission goes on regardless!

    But if the result was a significant spike, and they have some evidence from orbital and Earth based observation that Methane is higher then is to be expected at certain times in the Martian season.
    Then if it is Geological then that is a discovery of dramatic consequence. but if the isotopic ratio is the other way indicating a biological cause, then we have gold dust and the debatably greatest discovery in the history of science, it is I suggest that huge, and could quite well provide a reason that NASA is being a little cagey & shy if not surprisingly reticent about sharing of the SAM results.

    Mind you coming back to Earth again…It is just idle speculation on my part so just ignore me, most folks do ;-)

  14. It is to do with the the various minerals they found during the Spirit and Opportunities ramblings!
    They can only be transported and therefore deposited in a medium that has the signature of H2O…water.
    Identical to an analogue of what happens on Earth
    A CO^2 rivers require extremely cold frigid temps…that, although Mars is cold, is not likely.
    Consider the volume that flowed….channels and pebble shapes inform as a witness to the speed and depth of flow these flooded plains once endured. and alluvial fans are everywhere, again an analogue of Earth.

    There is no other liquid, envisaged given the chemistry and physics we know that played a part in Martian environmental development,  that exists, it has to be water…there is no other explanation.

  15.  
    valhalla
    It is to do with the the various minerals they found during the Spirit and Opportunities ramblings!
    They can only be transported and therefore deposited in a medium that has the signature of H2O…water

    I agree.  CO2 on Mars is in the form of solid or gas.

    The methane analysis would, if a spike was registered, would contain a method to indicate whether biological or geological processes were responsible.

    It might, but there is plenty of methane flying around in the outer Solar System, and plenty of craters on Mars.  People have jumped to wrong conclusions about seasonal variations on Mars before.

    You might be interested in this report:-

    Project Boreas – http://www.bis-space.com/what-

    In 2006 members of The British Interplanetary Society, led by the scientist Charles Cockell published an extensive report on the design of a human base located at the Martian North pole.

    It covers various aspects of Mars’ climate.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v

  16.  Interesting …

    Up-date Oct 11

    From NASA Media teleconference..

    Asked directly for a result from SAM on the Methane (over due by a month and a half now)…silence…then they ducked it!

    Summat’ is afoot!…I think they have a CH^4 spike but do not want to
    admit that because then you will have idiots like me claiming that the
    anomalous reading might indicate that microbial life is indeed present
    on Mars!

    Pandemonium would swamp the rest of the mission…maybe that is their
    thinking…makes the mission basically redundant apart from a very
    expensive geological survey.

  17.  

    @rdfrs-451e0b46b3c142df1258dda333387635:disqus  – Summat’ is afoot!…I think they have a CH^4 spike but do not want to admit that because then you will have idiots like me claiming that the anomalous reading might indicate that microbial life is indeed present on Mars!

    They were right to be cautious:-

    Update – November 2012 – http://news.discovery.com/spac

    Although the focus appears to be on organics, this is pure speculation
    for now. Science isn’t about announcing the first result, no matter how
    profound, historic or earth-shattering it appears to be. As an example,
    the initial SAM results for Martian air analysis hinted at the presence
    of methane, only for that result to be proven false during follow-up
    tests — air from Earth (which does contain methane) was trapped in the instrument and needed to be flushed out before pure Mars air could be properly analyzed.

    The  Curiosity discussion continues here – http://richarddawkins.net/news

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