Curiosity rover finds more evidence for possible liquid water brines on Mars

The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) on the Curiosity rover, used to make the brine calculations. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) on the Curiosity rover, used to make the brine calculations. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The search for liquid water on Mars is one that has been on-going for decades. It can’t exist for long on the surface, as it will quickly sublimate into the cold, thin atmosphere. Aquifers deep below the surface are still possible, but there is also another tantalizing possibility which scientists have been considering: brines. Such salty liquid water could theoretically last a bit longer on the surface or in the near-subsurface, and now the Curiosity rover has provided more evidence that this may indeed be happening at its location in Gale Crater, as well as elsewhere.

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Buried glaciers have enough ice to cover entire surface of Mars, according to new study

Image of dust-covered glaciers on Mars from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express. The glaciers are composed of water ice. Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin
Image of dust-covered glaciers on Mars from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on Mars Express. The glaciers are composed of water ice. Image Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

When the topic of ice on Mars comes up, the first thing that usually comes to mind are the polar ice caps which are prominent even in small telescopes. There is, however, ice elsewhere on the planet as well, such as beneath the surface in the mid-latitudes, covered by dust. Now, a new study has revealed the extent of these subsurface glaciers and the amount of frozen water they contain.

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Spirit rover: more evidence for ancient hot springs on Mars

View from the Spirit rover looking toward Husband Hill on the right, with the lighter-toned Home Plate rock outcrop below that. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
View from the Spirit rover looking toward Husband Hill on the right, with the lighter-toned Home Plate rock outcrop below that. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Spirit rover may have finished its journey a long time ago, but there is still plenty of data to go through and analyze, and continued study of that data has provided more evidence for one of the rover’s most significant findings: ancient hot springs in this area inside Gusev crater. Hot springs, as on Earth, would also have provided a potentially habitable environment for any Martian microorganisms, as well as being ideal for preserving fossils of such organisms if they existed.

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About that ‘mystery rock’ on Mars: no it’s not a plant, but…

Microscopic Imager (MI) closeup view of Pinnacle Island showing the whitish colouring around the edges and the darker appearing "jelly" interior. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
Microscopic Imager (MI) closeup view of Pinnacle Island showing the whitish colouring around the edges and the darker appearing “jelly” interior. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

There has been a lot of discussion the past few days about that lawsuit filed against NASA for supposedly covering up / failing to investigate evidence of life on Mars by the Opportunity rover. This all has to do of course with that “mystery rock” found by Opportunity, nicknamed Pinnacle Island, which somehow just appeared near the rover (most likely dislodged and kicked up by one of the wheels) a few weeks ago.

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Curiosity plays in a Martian sand dune

Close-up view of the edge of a Curiosity wheel track in the sand dune at Dingo Gap. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
Close-up view of the edge of a Curiosity wheel track in the sand dune at Dingo Gap. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Curiosity has also been taking a lot of close-up images of the sand dune which the rover has “toe-dipped” into. The rover’s wheels have left very distinct impressions in the very fine-grained sand within the dune, while the outside of the dune has a denser “crust” covered with many small rounded grains, similar to other dunes seen by the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. Whether or not Curiosity will actually drive through the dune (if deemed safe) to the other side of Dingo Gap or just go around hasn’t been decided yet, but in the meantime there are lots of new images to enjoy.

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Dingo Gap: new panorama and a rockhound’s bonanza

Mastcam panorama of Dingo Gap. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Damia Bouic
Mastcam panorama of Dingo Gap from sol 528. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Damia Bouic

Dingo Gap has turned out to be quite an interesting place for the Curiosity rover, being both scenic and of great geological interest. Rocks of all sizes and shapes litter the landscape amid the cliffs and sand dunes and Curiosity is continuing to study this area before driving further south toward Mount Sharp. Another new panorama by Damia Bouic shows the scenery in stunning high resolution and there is also a great overview by Emily Lakdawalla on The Planetary Society blog.

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New images: Dingo Gap and the ‘Firepit’

View of Dingo Gap on sol 527. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
View of Dingo Gap on sol 527. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Curiosity is now doing a complete examination of Dingo Gap, and sending back some beautiful new photos. The rover team hasn’t decided yet whether to try to cross though the largest sand dune which spreads across the middle of the Gap, and is about 1 metre (3 feet) tall. The dunes, cliffs and many different broken and jumbled rocks here make this a very scenic location. Of particular interest also is the “rock ring” beside the largest dune, and also now nicknamed by some as the “firepit” (thanks to Bill Dunford of the Riding with Robots blog for that!).

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Curiosity arrives at Dingo Gap

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View of Dingo Gap on sol 527. The interesting “rock ring” is just a short ways straight ahead. Click for larger view. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Curiosity is now at Dingo Gap, and the new images show the sand dunes and rocks in great detail. That includes the interesting “rock ring” mentioned earlier, just in front of the largest sand dune. Curiosity will drive right up to the sand dune (and presumably “rock ring”) in the next day or so, so even better images should be available soon!

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Curiosity closing in on Dingo Gap

Panoramic image of Dingo Gap, with some of the hills of the Gale crater rim in the background. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Olivier de Goursac
Panoramic image of Dingo Gap, with some of the hills of the Gale crater rim in the background. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Olivier de Goursac

The Curiosity rover is now getting a lot closer to Dingo Gap, that interesting opening between two rocky ledges just a short ways to the west. Small sand dunes and rocks cover the ground in DG. The image above is a beautiful panorama of DG by Olivier de Goursac assembled from several separate rover images. The image below was taken closer to DG, showing more detail in the rocks and dunes. There is also a curious little oval-shaped ring of rock just in front of the largest dune on the left side of the image; it looks similar to some of the other “bubble” formations seen previously. Is it the same or something different? We should be even closer in the next day or two to see more… See also updates here.

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