Curiosity rover fleshes out picture of old Mars

Mars geology in Gale Crater
This schematic illustrates how the creation and disappearance of a Martian lake created different layers of rock in the region being explored by NASA’s Curiosity rover. (NASA / JPL Graphic)

Scientists say they’re putting together the puzzle pieces provided by NASA’s Curiosity rover to get a better picture of how the outlook for habitability on Mars brightened and dimmed over the course of billions of years.

“We see all the properties in place that we like to associate with habitability,” Caltech planetary scientist John Grotzinger said today during a session at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco.

As Curiosity makes its way up the layered slopes of a 3-mile-high peak known as Aeolis Mons or Mount Sharp, it’s encountering different layers of material that hint at how the region around the mountain was formed.

Grotzinger and his colleagues said that clay minerals, boron and an iron-bearing mineral known as hematite are more abundant in the higher layers. Their presence suggests that there was dynamic chemical interaction between the rocks and groundwater in ancient times.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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