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A NASA probe makes an important discovery on Mars.  What do hexagonal patterns mean?

A NASA probe makes an important discovery on Mars. What do hexagonal patterns mean?

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NASA’s Curiosity rover has been exploring Mars since 2012. (File photo © NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Was life possible on Mars? NASA’s Curiosity rover is making a new discovery that may help answer the question.

Toulouse – The exact origin of life on our planet is a mystery to science. However, a long-standing theory holds that Earth’s alternation between dry and wet phases caused microbial life to emerge from complex chemical elements. Therefore, the new discovery of NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars is of particular interest to scientists.

The rover has been studying the Red Planet for eleven years and is currently climbing Mount Sharp in Mars’ Gale Crater. There he discovered something that seemed strange to ordinary people: cracks in the dry soil. These cracks form a hexagonal pattern – making them particularly interesting to scientists who know how hexagonal cracks form.

NASA’s Curiosity rover discovers mud cracks on Mars

When the mud dries, it contracts – T-shaped cracks form. Curiosity has detected such cracks on Mars before, they are an indication that the mud formed and dried again. However, as the clay repeatedly comes into contact with water, the T-shaped cracks soften and eventually transform into a Y-shape—showing the typical hexagonal patterns.

“These special mud cracks form when wet and dry conditions occur frequently – perhaps even seasonally,” explains William Rabin of the Institute for Research in Astrophysics and Planetary Science in Toulouse. Rabin is leading a study of hexagonal patterns on Mars in the journal nature published had become.

According to the researchers, the hexagonal patterns detected by NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars indicate wet and dry cycles.  It would have made life possible.
According to the researchers, the hexagonal patterns detected by NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars indicate wet and dry cycles. It would have made life possible. © NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/IRAP

Hexagrams on Mars have a special meaning

Hexagonal patterns formed on Mars when new sediments were brought in by water, like one Communication from NASA. The scientists concluded that alternating wet and dry conditions may have existed over a long period of time. A salty layer on top of the mud fissures preserved them for billions of years and allows researchers to study them today. Using Curiosity’s Mastcam and ChemCam instruments, the research team found the salt to be between 3.8 and 3.6 billion years old.

Rabin notes, “This is the first concrete evidence that the ancient climate of Mars showed regular Earth-like wet and dry cycles.” “But more importantly, the dry-wet cycles are beneficial to — and possibly essential to — the molecular evolution that could give rise to life.” Water is essential to life, but there has to be some balance—not too much, not too little water.

Patterns on Mars show that dry-wet cycles existed before

According to science, the conditions that can support microbial life are not the same as those that are necessary to favor the chemical reactions that can give rise to life. Dry-wet cycles regulate the concentration of chemicals that enable essential reactions that lead to life.

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This isn’t the first time NASA’s Curiosity rover has made discoveries on Mars that suggest microbial life may once have been possible there. “In eleven years, we’ve found ample evidence that microbial life may have existed on ancient Mars. Now the mission has found evidence of conditions that could also have been conducive to the emergence of life,” says Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Both Curiosity and Perseverance have already detected organic materials on Mars, among other things.

Searching for “curiosity” is a stroke of luck to search

It’s a stroke of luck for scientists: Just because Mars has no moving tectonic plates, mud cracks billions of years old are still visible — a testament to a very distant past. On Earth, on the other hand, plate tectonics causes similar features to disappear. “We are fortunate to have a planet as close to us as Mars, which still preserves the memory of the natural processes that may have led to the emergence of life,” says Rabin. (unpaid bill)

Machine assistance was used in this editorial article. The article was carefully screened by editor Tanya Banner before it was published.