NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has turned up a curious find on the surface of Earth’s closest neighbor – evidence shows that a 96-mile-wide crater on the Red Planet may have been filled with water billions of years ago. The Guardian reports that the new findings are the result of more than two years worth of data collection by the rover, which landed inside the Gale Crater in August, 2012. The new findings provide further evidence that Mars may have once been a planet much like Earth that supported microbial life, according to scientists.

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The Guardian notes that scientists working on the project found stacks of rocks containing water-deposited sediments inclined toward the crater’s center – where a mound called Mount Sharp sits. This means Mount Sharp didn’t exist 3.5 billion years ago when the crater was filled with water. “Finding the inclined strata was . . . a complete surprise,” lead scientist, John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology told The Guardian. “Sedimentary geology . . . is the cutting edge for trying to understand the Earth. When oil companies collect seismic surveys across places, they are looking for inclined strata because they you get geometry that tells you where the rocks are you’re looking for.”

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Not long after it landed, Curiosity discovered that Mars had, at one time, the chemical ingredients and environmental conditions to support microbial life. But The Guardian notes that its subsequent explorations are seeking out ancient habitable areas and “life-friendly environments” that existed for long enough for life to evolve – even though scientists still aren’t sure how long the process actually took on Earth.

Via The Guardian

Images via NASA