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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Martian surface provides clues to climate

As we learn more about the planet Mars today, we can begin to understand more about its history as well. For example, in the latest issue of Science Magazine, researchers explain how rocks on the surface of Mars provide clues about the Martian climate millions of years ago.

Researcher Kevin Lewis and colleagues analyzed data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter space satellite and found a pattern to the way rocks were layered on the surface of the planet. This pattern tells researchers that the surface conditions on the planet must have followed a similar pattern for tens of millions of years.

The layering of rocks in a pattern like this one is very similar to what we see on Earth, normally caused by climate. The layers on Mars' surface contain several deposits of rocks, many of them thicker than 10 meters, which are organized into larger units.

The researchers suggest that climate events in Mars' ancient atmosphere must have occurred in a cycle in order to form this alternating pattern of sediment layers on the surface. They do not believe that abrupt events like a volcano or a meteor impact could cause patterns like the ones they observed.

This new information about the surface of Mars might end up telling us a lot about the history of climate on that planet.