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An entire region of Mars, shaped by water

False color image of Cape St. Vincent at Victoria Crater, Mars.
[Image courtesy of Steven W. Squyres]

Long ago, the face of Mars was shaped by water flowing across its surface. But, researchers have never known exactly how these processes took place on the ancient Martian planet.

NASA's Mars rover Opportunity has been exploring the Victoria crater, located near the equator of the red planet, for two years. Now, researchers have reviewed some of the data it has collected along the way, and they are sharing some rather exciting discoveries.

Dr. Steven Squyres and his colleagues analyzed the data from Opportunity, and found that the pattern of sedimentary rocks inside the Victoria crater is similar to that found in other craters more than three and a half miles (six kilometers) away to the north. According to the researchers, this discovery means that water once helped to shape that entire region of the planet long ago.

Enhanced color image of Opportunity's traverse at Victoria crater.
[Image courtesy of Science/AAAS]

They describe the crater as having a 750 meter diameter, and being 75 meters deep. The rocks that the Opportunity rover collected and analyzed provide information about how the crater formed. They even provide evidence of ancient wind-blown "sand dunes" that once stood on the planet.

Still, the most exciting discovery was made possible by the comparison of the Victoria crater to other craters miles away. Squyres and his team now have evidence that the same water flow that helped shape the Victoria crater also affected other craters in the region. This means that water once covered the entire landscape, and helped to shape the face of that entire region not just one small piece of it.


This research appears in the 22 May issue of Science.