Rocks show Mars once felt like Iceland

by Rice University, Jan 21, 2021 in ScienceDaily

Crater study offers window on temperatures 3.5 billion years ago

Once upon a time, seasons in Gale Crater probably felt something like those in Iceland. But nobody was there to bundle up more than 3 billion years ago.

The ancient Martian crater is the focus of a study by Rice University scientists comparing data from the Curiosity rover to places on Earth where similar geologic formations have experienced weathering in different climates.

Iceland’s basaltic terrain and cool weather, with temperatures typically less than 38 degrees Fahrenheit, turned out to be the closest analog to ancient Mars. The study determined that temperature had the biggest impact on how rocks formed from sediment deposited by ancient Martian streams were weathered by climate.

The study by postdoctoral alumnus Michael Thorpe and Martian geologist Kirsten Siebach of Rice and geoscientist Joel Hurowitz of State University of New York at Stony Brook set out to answer questions about the forces that affected sands and mud in the ancient lakebed.

Data collected by Curiosity during its travels since landing on Mars in 2012 provide details about the chemical and physical states of mudstones formed in an ancient lake, but the chemistry does not directly reveal the climate conditions when the sediment eroded upstream. For that, the researchers had to look for similar rocks and soils on Earth to find a correlation between the planets.