Curiosity's "selfie"from the Gale Crater which is thought to have been a massive Martian lake. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

What if the Massive Martian Lakes Weren’t Lakes At All?

After analyzing this particular data, the researchers suggested that the deposits studied by the Curiosity rover during most of the mission did not actually form in a lake.


Scientists from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) have presented new research that challenges the popular Gale crater hypothesis on Mars. Until now, data from the Curiosity rover indicated that this crater in ancient times could have been a deep Martian lake. However, an alternative view of the same data showed that the lake could never have been there.

Was the Gale Crater ever a deep Martian lake or have scientists been wrong the whole time?

Research locations

It was carried out by geologists who took long-known and studied data for analysis. The information was previously obtained by the Curiosity rover, which has been exploring Gale Crater and Mount Sharp since 2012.

Previous analysis

Previous analysis has suggested that the samples taken by this rover are lake sediments. Over time, the theory that about three billion years ago Gale Crater was a huge Martian lake of liquid water became popular and almost universally accepted.

Surface sediments?

However, geologists say that NASA’s rover has not been exploring lacustrine sediments over the past eight years, but surface sediments. The authors of the paper write that Curiosity has conducted an extensive geological analysis of samples over the years using its toolbox.


After analyzing this particular data, the researchers suggested that the deposits studied by the rover during most of the mission did not actually form in a Martian lake. In their opinion, the studied material is deposits formed over millions of years as a result of atmospheric precipitation and erosion.

Humid environment

Researchers speculate that the “humid environment” that has been much talked about in recent years is actually traces of weathering. They look unusual because these processes took place in the distant past when it rained on the Red Planet, and its atmosphere was radically different from the present one.

New analysis

Geologists from Hong Kong cite numerous data from their chemical tests to prove their arguments. They also took X-ray measurements and compared them with previous images of rock textures.

Geological processes

This made it possible to determine how the composition of the rocks of Mars is related to the geological processes taking place on this planet.

Curious chemical structures

As a result, very important chemical structures were identified in the rocks, the presence of which cannot be explained in the context of the influence of the Martian lake environment. The key point, the researchers write, is that some of these elements are mobile or easily dissolve in water, while others are immobile. In other words, they stay in the rocks under all conditions.

Mars’ evolution

The new work will improve understanding of how the overall Martian atmosphere and climate on the surface of the Red Planet evolved. This is also important for the study of the possible existence of life on Mars in antiquity.

Additional information

The full report of the study can be found in the journal Science Advances. A summary of the study is published on the HKU website.

Join the discussion and participate in awesome giveaways in our mobile Telegram group. Join Curiosmos on Telegram Today.


Crane, L. (2021, August 6). Ancient Lake in MARS’S Gale crater may have actually been a small pond. New Scientist.
O’Neill, M. (2021, August 11). Geologists discover that Nasa rover has been Exploring SURFACE Sediments, not ancient lake deposits. SciTechDaily.
Smith, Y. (2021, August 5). Curiosity celebrates another year on mars. NASA.
The University of Hong Kong. (n.d.). HKU geologists discover that the NASA rover has been exploring surface sediments, not lake deposits for last eight years – all news – media – HKU.
Wall, M. (2021, August 6). Giant ancient lake in Gale crater on mars? New study offers different view.


Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

Write for us

We’re always looking for new guest authors and we welcome individual bloggers to contribute high-quality guest posts.

Get In Touch