The science results from American Mars rover Curiosity during its traverse of Vera Rubin Ridge at the base of Mount Sharp in Gale Crater have now been released to the public.
This link takes you to the overview paper, available online for free. The abstract notes the key finding, which confirms previously released research:
We conclude Vera Rubin ridge formed because groundwater recrystallized and hardened the rocks that now make up the ridge. Wind subsequently sculpted and eroded Mount Sharp, leaving the harder ridge rocks standing because they resisted erosion compared with surrounding rocks. The implication of these results is that liquid water was present at Mount Sharp for a very long time, not only when the crater held a lake but also much later, likely as groundwater.
The fundamental geological mystery of Mars remains. The evidence strongly says that liquid water must have existed for long periods on the surface of Mars. At the same time, other evidence strongly says that the climate and atmosphere of Mars has never been warm enough or thick enough to allow for liquid water on the planet’s surface.
So far, no global model proposed by any theorist that allows liquid water in the past on Mars has been accepted with any enthusiasm by the planetary community. While possible, the models carry too many assumptions and are based on what is presently far too limited data. We simply do not yet know enough about Mars and its past history to explain this conundrum.
The paper also outlines a number of models for allowing liquid water in the localized area of Gale Crater alone. As with the global models, none fits all the facts, or is entirely satisfactory for explaining the data.
Regardless, the results from Vera Rubin Ridge confirm once again that enough liquid water once did exist on Mars to have allowed it to be habitable for life, even if we have so far found no evidence of any past life.
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