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NASA's Curiosity rover has found conclusive evidence that Mars once had large amounts of flowing water. A streambed and alluvial fan, similar to those found in the southwestern United States has been discovered.

Curiosity has high resolution images of coarse gravel that was deposited by flowing water on an alluvial fan. Note the sharp angular edges of the gravel which indicate that it was likely deposited by a flash flood like we see in the arid southwestern United States. Windblown deposits would not contain a mix of gravel, fine sediment and the whitish binding material that appears to be calcium carbonate cement, formed by the evaporation of water, like caliche on earth. Wind would likely have blown away the fines and rounded the edges of the gravel.

Photos from above show the Curiosity rover is exploring at the base of a large alluvial fan.
NASA compares the fan found on Mars to similar alluvial fans found in Death Valley. Fans form where streams flow out of steep canyons into broad valleys. Coarse sediment is deposited as the stream slows down and can no longer carry gravel and coarse sand. Craters on the fan show that it is old. How old is not clear. Whether Mars had large amounts of flowing water long enough to support the development of life is not clear from this discovery. However, this strong evidence of flowing water is good reason to continue the search for evidence of life on Mars.

Earth's magnetic field and larger mass have helped earth retain water. Mars lacks a magnetic field so charged particles in the upper atmosphere can be lost to the solar wind.

Originally posted to SciTech on Thu Sep 27, 2012 at 02:53 PM PDT.

Also republished by J Town, Astro Kos, and Kossacks on Mars.

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