NASA's Mars Curiosity has confirmed the presence of clay minerals in the aptly named region the clay-bearing unit on the side of lower Mount Sharp.
According to the U.S. space agency, the rover extracted samples from two rock targets nicknamed Aberlady and Kilmarie. Both rocks also appear in a new selfie snapped by the rover on May 12, 2019.
On Wednesday, May 29, NASA announced that drilling Aberlady and Kilmarie produced the "highest amounts of clay minerals ever found during the mission." The region of Mount Sharp has been a point of interests for scientists since before Curiosity landed in the Red Planet in 2012.
The discovery of clay in the region hints that water was abundant in Gale Crater during Mars' ancient past. Clay forms in water, which is necessary for life to thrive. Curiosity has slowly been climbing Mount Sharp, which rises about 3 miles from the base of Gale Crater since 2014 to figure out if the planet had the right conditions to support life billions of years ago.
"Other than proof that there was a significant amount of water once in Gale Crater, what these new findings mean for the region is still up for debate," the space agency explained in the press release. "It's likely that the rocks in the area formed as layers of mud in ancient lakes — something Curiosity also found lower on Mount Sharp. Water interacted with sediment over time, leaving an abundance of clay in the rocks there."
Curiosity also took out its mineralogy instrument called CheMin to analyze the samples. It found that small traces of hematite, a mineral that was abundant in the nearby Vera Rubin Ridge.
In the future, the rover will explore the sulfate-bearing unit, where the presence of sulfate minerals might indicate that the area was drying up, and then Gediz Vallis, where an ancient river once carved its own path.
Curiosity Looks Up
NASA also reported that Curiosity snapped images of drifting clouds using its Navigation Cameras. At the same time, the InSight lander located about 373 miles (600 kilometers) away captured photos of the same clouds.
The clouds were likely water-ice and floated about 19 miles above the ground.