The History of Water On Mars

NASA has new evidence of an ancient flowing stream on Mars thanks to the Curiosity rover. Until now, scientists could only speculate about what caused the channels left on Mar’s surface.  New images sent back by Curiosity show gravel that was once part an ancient stream according to scientists at NASA.

NASA Rover finds ancient streambed on Mars

Below is a rock outcrop called Link on the Martian surface. NASA says that Link has characteristics that are consistent with rock formed by water deposits.

Peeking into Mars' past

The black oval indicates the Curiosity’s targeted landing area for the so called “landing ellipse” mission. The cross near the center is Curiosity’s actual landing site. The red areas of the image indicate higher elevations and blue the lower elevations.

Tracking Martian waterflow


Below is a comparison of the Link outcrop of rocks on Mars with similar rocks on Earth.  The Earth half of the image shows a typical example of sedimentary conglomerate formed of gravel fragments. The Martian Link region features rounded gravel fragments, or clasts, up to a couple inches within the rock outcrop. The circled area is a piece of gravel that is about 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) across. It was selected as an example of coarse size and rounded shape. Rounded grains (of any size) occur by abrasion in sediment transport, by wind or water, when the grains bounce against each other. The gravel fragments are too large to be transported by wind, which indicates to scientists that  the rounding occurred by water.

Comparing outcrops on Earth and Mars

Below is a map of Curiosity’s path to Glenelg and the apparent Martian stream bed. The Goulburn site offered the first evidence that surface water might have transported sandstone material that made up the Link outcrop. The Link’s rounded shapes also provide further evidence of water transport on Mars. Another exposed rock outcrop, named Hottah, also contains many rounded pebbles, providing more evidence of free flowing Martian water.   The rounded pebbles, up to 1.6 inches in diameter, are believed to be too large to have been transported by wind, according to NASA. Typical wind speeds on Mars can exceed 200 km/hr (or 125 miles/hr). Gusts can often reach 500 to 600 km/hr (or 300-375 miles/hr).

NASA's Curiosity rover heads for Glenelg

High-resolution view of Goulburn Scour, where a set of rocks got pushed out of the way when Curiosity descended to Mars.

Goulburn Scour

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– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities.  Connect with me on Google +


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