Curiosity finds evidence of drying Martian mud

Ridges formed in the rocks at Lower Mount Sharp on Mars could point to evidence of wet mud on the planet's surface that eventually dried up.

A network of cracks can be seen in this sample of Martian rock, which may be indicative of wet mud having dried up in the Red Planet’s past. Each of the four and five-sided polygons formed by the ridges is about 1-2cm across, which matches the patterns normally formed as mud dries.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA has discovered evidence of cracks formed in ancient Martian mud, which could point to the existence of water that dried up on the planet’s surface in the past.

The Mars Curiosity rover has been examining shallow ridges in the rocks at a site called ‘Old Soaker’ on lower Mount Sharp. It is thought that these ridges were formed from cracks that appeared in the surface over 3 billion years ago, as the wet surface began to dry up. These cracks were then buried by layers of sediment, but eventually wind erosion stripped the sediment away.

The material that filled the cracks was able to resist erosion better than the mudstone around it, causing the now-visible ridges to form.

If true, these would be the first mud cracks to be confirmed by the Curiosity mission, and would point to evidence of wetter conditions in Mars’s history.

"If these are indeed mud cracks, they fit well with the context of what we're seeing in the section of Mount Sharp Curiosity has been climbing for many months," says Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada. "The ancient lakes varied in depth and extent over time, and sometimes disappeared. We're seeing more evidence of dry intervals between what had been mostly a record of long-lived lakes."


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