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By Jackie Wattles, CNN
In the foothills of a Martian mountain, NASA’s Curiosity rover found stunning new evidence of an ancient lake in the form of rocks etched with the ripples of waves — and the telltale signs appeared in an unlikely place.
The rover is traversing an area of Mars called the “sulfate-bearing unit” that researchers previously thought would only show evidence of mere trickles of water, as scientists believed the rocks there formed as the surface of the red planet was drying out. Instead, the rover found some of the clearest evidence yet of ancient waters.
“This is the best evidence of water and waves that we’ve seen in the entire mission,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in a statement. “We climbed through thousands of feet of lake deposits and never saw evidence like this — and now we found it in a place we expected to be dry.”
The sulfate-bearing unit is a region previously identified by the Mars Reconaissance Orbiter as containingsalty mineral deposits just beneath an 18,000-foot (5,500-meter) mountain called Mount Sharp. Scientists consider the sulfate-bearing unit to be a location rife with clues about how and why Mars morphed from a watery planet into the frozen place it is today, and researchers have long sought to explore the area in more depth.
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