Photos from NASA's Mars rover show the red planet's ancient rivers were much wilder than scientists first thought

  • NASA's Mars rover found evidence to suggest deep, powerful rivers once raged on the red planet.

  • The Perseverance rover took close-up images a specific region in Jezero Crater for the first time.

  • The discovery may help scientists figure out what kind of ancient life existed on the planet.

NASA's Mars Perseverance rover has taken new images that reveal that some of the red planet's ancient rivers were much wilder than scientists previously thought.

"It's the first time we're seeing environments like this on Mars," Katie Stack Morgan, Perseverance's deputy project scientist, said in a NASA release.

Scientists studying rock formations, features, and valleys on Mars, so far, have found evidence to suggest Mars was once covered by water.

NASA illustration of ancient Mars covered in water.
Scientific evidence suggest Mars was once covered in water. Today, it's a dry, barren land.NASA/GSFC

Now, thanks to the rover's first close-up images of curving bands of layered rock within Jezero Crater — a place nicknamed "Skrinkle Haven" — scientists are getting a better picture of water in that region.

Jezero Crater was once a lake, and the new photos suggest that the rivers pouring into it were deeper, more powerful rivers than previously thought, according to NASA.

One of the images shows coarse sediment grains and cobbles, which are big enough to "indicate a high-energy river that's truckin' and carrying a lot of debris," Libby Ives, a researcher at NASA, said in the release.

"The more powerful the flow of water, the more easily it's able to move larger pieces of material," Ives added. In other words, a shallower, more gentle river probably couldn't create formations like the ones shown here.

close-up of red rocky plane on Mars
These bands of rock could have been formed by ancient rivers, according to NASA.NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

Another image from Perseverance further supports this idea of a powerful ancient river that once roared across Jezero Crater.

The image shows a hill about a quarter of a mile from Skrinkle Haven. What's interesting about this hill is the sedimentary layers that curve skyward.

"These layers are anomalously tall for rivers on Earth," Ives said in the release. "But at the same time, the most common way to create these kinds of landforms would be a river."

image of red rocky hill on Mars
Scientists think rivers could have helped form this hill nicknamed "Pinestand."NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

The new discovery from the Perseverance rover, which has been traversing Mars for two years, could help scientists in their search for ancient alien life on Mars, since long-extinct microbial life may be preserved within those very rocks.

The Perseverance rover has several objectives as it traverses Jezero Crater including hunting down evidence of ancient microbial life as well as studying the region's geology, past climate, and paving the way for the first humans on Mars.

"What's exciting here is we've entered a new phase of Jezero's history," Morgan said in the NASA release. "We're thinking about rivers on a different scale than we have before."

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