Curiosity rover finds evidence that Mars once had lakes

This Aug. 5, 2015 composite self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle above the "Bucksin" rock target in the "Marias Pass" area of lower Mount Sharp. (NASA)

Mars enthusiasts have something big to celebrate today. NASA's Curiosity rover has confirmed that the red planet was home to large lakes full of water approximately 3.5 billion years ago.

The Curiosity rover is currently exploring the Gale Crater on Mars. Scientists say that the rover has unearthed evidence that water would have flowed in from nearby mountains down into the crater's center into lakes billions of years ago. The water-transported sedimentary deposition could have extended at least 500 to 650 feet above the crater floor, scientists say.

"Observations from the rover suggest that a series of long-lived streams and lakes existed at some point between about 3.8 to 3.3 billion years ago, delivering sediment that slowly built up the lower layers of Mount Sharp," said Ashwin Vasavada, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

A view from the "Kimberley" formation on Mars taken by NASA's Curiosity rover.

An image taken at the "Hidden Valley" site, en-route to Mount Sharp, by NASA's Curiosity rover.

The findings build upon recent discoveries that liquid water still flows on Mars, and that the planet resembled Earth more closely billions of years ago than it does today.

"We have tended to think of Mars as being simple," said John Grotzinger, the former project scientist for Mars Science Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. "We once thought of the Earth as being simple too. But the more you look into it, questions come up because you're beginning to fathom the real complexity of what we see on Mars."

Scientists now are tasked with what happened to the wetter climate of Mars.

"Our challenge is to figure out how this more clement Mars was even possible, and what happened to that wetter Mars," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington."
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