NASA Finds “Best Evidence of Water and Waves” on Mars, No Alien Surfboards Yet

We humans have been looking at neighboring planet Mars for so long and with so many tools few of us still believe the place has any secrets left, aside of course from a definite confirmation that life once existed (or still exists) there.
Curiosity rover spots wave ripples on the rocks of Mars 6 photos
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/edited by autoevolution
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Mars is one of three places in this solar system of ours (the other two being the Moon and Venus) where robots made on Earth landed. Of the three though, it’s the one with the most such machines: five mobile laboratories have landed over the years (Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity, Curiosity, and Perseverance,) and two of them are still active, Curiosity and Perseverance.

With the latter landing there almost two years ago to the day (February 18, 2021), it’s only natural it’s the one that steals the spotlight the most. By comparison, Curiosity is much older, having been on active duty since August 5, 2012. But that doesn’t mean it can’t surprise anymore.

The Curiosity rover is presently roaming the higher altitudes of a region of Mars’ Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons), in the Gale crater. It reached its current workplace last fall as scientists directed it there with a clear goal in mind: proving once and for all liquid water once existed on the surface of the planet.

The place where the rover currently conducts science was formed back when the climate on Mars was drying, about three billion years ago. It’s presently home to salty minerals that can form in the presence of water: magnesium sulfate, calcium sulfate, and sodium chloride, which is basically the salt we use to eat our daily meals.

Curiosity found traces of all of the above, and that leads scientists to believe their assumption that the place was once rich in streams, lakes and ponds is correct. Yet, just as they were beginning to lean back and relax, thinking they’d uncovered most of Mount Sharp’s secrets, Curiosity surprised them.

Curiosity rover
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA, as the rover’s operator, announced this week it now has evidence not only of water being present there, but also of the waves that moved over its surface a long time ago (no surfboard of ancient aliens found yet).

Mount Sharp is three miles tall (5 km), and Curiosity has been going up its slopes since 2014. In the time that passed since, it learned the place is made up of layers of soil, with the youngest at the top. As it moved up, the rover was essentially traveling in time through the planet’s past.

Now half a mile above the mountain’s base, it stumbled upon rippled rock textures, embedded in a thin and very hard (to the point Curiosity was unable to drill and snatch a sample) layer of rock. The findings make scientists confident these ripples have been caused by waves, but can also mean they've reached the place where once a lake's surface was.

“This is the best evidence of water and waves that we’ve seen in the entire mission,”
said in a statement Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

“We climbed through thousands of feet of lake deposits and never saw evidence like this – and now we found it in a place we expected to be dry.”

The rover’s mission in the region is far from over. In the coming weeks, as it moves further up the mountain, softer rock is expected to be encountered, and hopes are a sample could be snatched.

Aside from proving once more Mars had liquid water, the minerals in the area will also unlock some of the mysteries about why and how the Martian climate changed, turning it from a sister planet to our own into a reddish, frozen desert.

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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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