Two weeks ago, NASA announced that Mars rover Curiosity had reached the first of five waypoints along its months-long drive to a Martian mountain named Mount Sharp. Researchers were hoping to investigate rocks in the area for comparison to those already seen by the rover. Today, NASA announced that their observations were fruitful, as the rocks at the waypoint seem to have been formed by flowing water.
"We examined pebbly sandstone deposited by water flowing over the surface, and veins or fractures in the rock," said Dawn Sumner, a Curiosity science team member at the University of California at Davis. "We know the veins are younger than the sandstone because they cut through it, but they appear to be filled with grains like the sandstone."
NASA has nicknamed the waypoint area "Darwin," and it is located around one-fifth of the way along Curiosity's current route. It is the first of five planned waypoints on the journey. Curiosity spent around four days examining rocks in the area with the instruments located on its arm. The rover finished its Darwin examination on Sunday and set off once again, traveling a relatively conservative 75 feet toward Mount Sharp.
The new observations back up those the rover found in Yellowknife Bay, where Curiosity spent the first half of 2013. The rover's mission to determine whether Mars ever had conditions suitable for basic life has already been completed.
"We want to understand the history of water in Gale Crater," said Sumner. "Did the water flow that deposited the pebbly sandstone at Waypoint 1 occur at about the same time as the water flow at Yellowknife Bay? If the same fluid flow produced the veins here and the veins at Yellowknife Bay, you would expect the veins to have the same composition. We see that the veins are different, so we know the history is complicated. We use these observations to piece together the long-term history."
(Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)