Rover findings indicate stratified lake on ancient MarsStaff Writer | June 2, 2017
A long-lasting lake on ancient Mars provided stable environmental conditions that differed significantly from one part of the lake to another, according to a comprehensive look at findings from the first three-and-a-half years of NASA's Curiosity rover mission.
Space The diversity of environments
Stratified bodies of water exhibit sharp chemical or physical differences between deep water and shallow water. In Gale's lake, the shallow water was richer in oxidants than deeper water was.
"We're learning that in parts of the lake and at certain times, the water carried more oxygen," said Roger Wiens, a planetary scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and co-author of the study, published today in the journal Science.
"This matters because it affects what minerals are deposited in the sediments, and also because oxygen is important for life.
"But we have to remember that at the time of Gale Lake, life on our planet had not yet adapted to using oxygen - photosynthesis had not yet been invented.
"Instead, the oxidation state of certain elements like manganese or iron may have been more important for life, if it ever existed on Mars. These oxidation states would be controlled by the dissolved oxygen content of the water."
"These were very different, co-existing environments in the same lake," said Joel Hurowitz of Stony Brook University, lead author of the report. "This type of oxidant stratification is a common feature of lakes on Earth, and now we've found it on Mars.
"The diversity of environments in this Martian lake would have provided multiple opportunities for different types of microbes to survive."
Whether Mars has ever hosted any life is still unknown, but seeking signs of life on any planet, whether Earth, Mars or more-distant icy worlds, begins with reconstruction of the environment to determine if it was capable of supporting life.
NASA is using Curiosity to explore habitable environments on the ancient surface of Mars. ■