19/01/2017 15:46 GMT | Updated 19/01/2017 15:49 GMT

These Ancient 'Mud Cracks' Could Be Evidence Of Water On Mars

They formed more than three BILLION years ago.

To the untrained eye, the Curiosity rover’s latest find might look pretty unremarkable.

But to scientists operating NASA’s Curiosity Rover, the dusty slab is a geological treasure trove, potentially revealing evidence that water once ran across the surface of the Red Planet.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Over the past few weeks, scientists have been analysing the slab’s cross-hatching, which is believed to be evidence of cracks in drying mud.

“Mud cracks are the most likely scenario here,” said Curiosity science team member Nathan Stein, a graduate student at Caltech in Pasadena, California, who led the investigation of the site nicknamed “Old Soaker”.

If the interpretation proves accurate, they would be the first evidence of mud cracks on Mars. The slab is believed to have formed in an ancient era when deposited sediments dried after wetter conditions.


In a blog post, NASA explained that the cracked layer formed more than three billion years ago, before being buried by layers of sediment and transforming into stratified rock. Wind has subsequently stripped away several layers.

It’s not the first time Curiosity has found evidence of water in the region. Old, lower-lying rock layers and in younger mudstone above Old Soaker signals that an ancient lake once covered the area. 

“If these are indeed mud cracks, they fit well with the context of what we’re seeing in the section of Mount Sharp Curiosity has been climbing for many months,” said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

“The ancient lakes varied in depth and extent over time, and sometimes disappeared. We’re seeing more evidence of dry intervals between what had been mostly a record of long-lived lakes.”

Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2016

  • 14
    Stephen Voss
    Auroral Nuggets
  • 13
    Richard Inman
    Antarctic Space Station
  • 12
    Rick Whitacre
    Between the Rocks
  • 11
    Tommy Richardson
    Crystal Brilliance
  • 10
    Nicholas Roemmelt
    Frozen Giant
  • 9
    Philippe Jacquot
    ISS under Venus and the Moon
  • 8
    Ivan Eder
    M8 Lagoon Nebula
  • 7
    Giles Rocholl
    The northern lights illuminate the lagoon at Jokulsarlon, Iceland photo tour, February 2016
  • 6
    Sean Goebel
    Parallel Mountains
  • 5
    Lee Cook
  • 4
    Katherine Young
    Rise Lunation
  • 3
    Rune Engebø
    Seven Magic Points
  • 2
    Melanie Thorne
    The Diamond Ring
  • 1
    Michael Jäeger
    The Disconnection Event