See pics: NASA Mars rover captures images of ancient valley carved by water

It may have been carved by flowing water, or a debris flow in which a small amount of water

NASA’s Mars rover has beamed back images of an ancient valley that may have been carved by flowing water on the inner slope of a vast crater’s rim.

As NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity approached the upper end of “Perseverance Valley” in early May — the main destination of its extended mission — images from its cameras began showing parts of the area in greater resolution than what can be seen in images taken from orbit above the red planet.

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“The science team is really jazzed at starting to see this area up close and looking for clues to help us distinguish among multiple hypotheses about how the valley formed,” said Opportunity Project Scientist Matt Golombek of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the US.

The process that carved Perseverance Valley into the rim of Endeavour Crater billions of years ago has not yet been identified.

It may have been carved by flowing water, or a debris flow in which a small amount of water lubricated a turbulent mix of mud and boulders. Even a drier process, such as wind erosion, may have made such carvings possible.

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The mission’s main objective with Opportunity at this site is to assess which possibility is best supported by the evidence still in place.

The upper end of the valley is at a broad notch in the crest of the crater rim. The rover team’s plan for studying the area begins with taking sets of images of the valley from two widely separated points at that dip in the rim.(read more)