New analysis of data from the Curiosity rover reveals that much of the craters on Mars today could have once been habitable rivers.
“We’re finding evidence that Mars was likely a planet of rivers,” said Benjamin Cardenas, assistant professor of geosciences at Penn State and lead author on a new paper announcing the discovery. “We see signs of this all over the planet.”
In a study published in Geophysical Research Letters, the researchers used numerical models to simulate erosion on Mars over millennia and found that common crater formations — called bench-and-nose landforms — are most likely remnants of ancient riverbeds.
The study was the first to map the erosion of ancient Martian soil by training a computer model on a combination of satellite data, Curiosity images and 3D scans of the stratigraphy — or layers of rock, called strata, deposited over millions of years — beneath the Gulf of Mexico seafloor. The analysis revealed a new interpretation for common Martian crater formations which, until now, have never been associated with eroded river deposits.
“We have everything to learn about Mars by better understanding how these river deposits can be interpreted stratigraphically, thinking about rocks today as layers of sediment deposited over time,” Cardenas said. “This analysis is not snapshot, but a record of change. What we see on Mars today is the remnants of an active geologic history, not some landscape frozen in time.”