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Mudcracks In Mars Confirm Existence Of Lakes That Likely Dried Up Billions Of Years Ago

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Geologists confirm that the mudcracks on Mars's surface spotted by the Curiosity rover last year strongly suggest the presence of lakes that likely dried up about 3.5 billion years ago.

Desiccation Cracks In Gale Crater

Images sent by the Curiosity rover showed what appeared to be desiccation cracks on the Gale Crater. Scientists said this information could give fresh details about the Martian climate.

"We are now confident that these are mudcracks. The mudcracks show that the lakes in Gale Crater had gone through the same type of cycles that we see on Earth," said Nathaniel Stein, lead author of the study and a geologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Researchers suggested that it is possible that the water levels rose and fell dramatically over time since desiccated mudcracks can only occur when wet sediments are exposed to air and moisture has evaporated.

Details of the study can be found in the April 16 edition of the journal Geology.

The Martian Mission

Another rover is a work in process for a planned landing on Mars in 2020. Engineers and technicians at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory are working on a system that will lower the Mars 2020 rover on the Red Planet's surface. The so-called sky crane system is also what the space agency used on the Curiosity rover descent in August 2012.

Part of the agency's mission to Mars is to study its interior and differentiate how it differs from Earth's crust, mantle, and core. NASA is scheduled to launch the Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations on May 5.

"In some ways, InSight is like a scientific time machine that will bring back information about the earliest stages of Mars' formation 4.5 billion years ago," said Bruce Banerdt, the principal investigator for InSight at JPL. "It will help us learn how rocky bodies form, including Earth, its moon, and even planets in other solar systems."

Phases Of The Mission

NASA believes that the mission to send humans to Mars in the 2030s is already well underway. So far, the Curiosity rover has provided scientists with radiation data that will help protect astronauts in the future.

Currently, NASA is on the Proving Ground phase of the Martian mission, which includes a year-long mission to validate readiness for Mars. Once the Mars 2020 rover lands, space scientists will study the availability of life-sustaining resources including oxygen.

The final stage is called Earth Independent, where astronauts will demonstrate entry, descent, and landing. From 2030 and beyond, NASA expects to conduct robotic round trips and send humans to orbit Mars.

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