A roughly 3.5-mile high Martian mound that scientists suspect preserves evidence of a massive lake might actually have formed as a result of the Red Planet's famously dusty atmosphere, an analysis of the mound's features suggests. If correct, the research could dilute expectations that the mound holds evidence of a large body of water, which would have important implications for understanding Mars' past habitability.
Researchers based at Princeton Univ. and the California Institute of Technology suggest that the mound, known as Mount Sharp, most likely emerged as strong winds carried dust and sand into the 96-mile-wide crater in which the mound sits. They report in the journal Geology that air likely rises out of the massive Gale Crater when the Martian surface warms during the day, then sweeps back down its steep walls at night. Though strong along the Gale Crater walls, these "slope winds" would have died down at the crater's center where the fine dust in the air settled and accumulated to eventually form Mount Sharp, which is close in size to Alaska's Mt. McKinley.
This dynamic counters the prevailing theory that Mount Sharp formed from layers of lakebed silt — and could mean that the mound contains less evidence of a past, Earth-like Martian climate than most scientists currently expect.
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Sources: Princeton University, LaboratoryEquipment.com .
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