NASA has discovered what appears to be evidence of a 3.5 billion-year-old oasis-like environment on Mars, scientists from the space agency reported on Monday.
The research was detailed in an article in Nature Geoscience, where scientists explained how they had analyzed data from rock deposits gathered by NASA’s Curiosity rover.
Curiosity was traversing the planet’s Mount Sharp and a 154km-wide basin known as the Gale Crater when it uncovered rocks enriched with mineral salts.
Scientists say that these mineral salts are evidence of pools of water that would periodically dry up and overflow, indicating fluctuations in climate.
The rover takes samples of different layers of the crater and transmits data of the extracted material’s make-up to earth.
The lead author of the article, Caltech’s William Rapin, said the Gale Crater preserves a “unique record of a changing Mars”.
The scientists hope that the research will lead to more discoveries about Mars’s potential to sustain life.
“Understanding when and how the planet’s climate started evolving is a piece of another puzzle: When and how long was Mars capable of supporting microbial life at the surface?”
The scientists are studying the environmental history of the planet, which they speculate may have morphed from a water-rich planet to the cold desert landscape we know today.
Curiosity had previously discovered proof of a freshwater lake on the planet’s surface.