Mars Rover Curiosity's Ancient Stream Discovery Explained (Infographic)

Once a stream flowed down the steep rim of Gale Crater and deposited rocks on the flat plain below, say JPL scientists.
Once a stream flowed down the steep rim of Gale Crater and deposited rocks on the flat plain below, say JPL scientists. (Image credit: Karl Tate,


While rolling across the floor of Gale Crater on Mars, the rover Curiosity has found rock formations that scientists say reveal clear evidence that water once flowed on the Martian surface.

Curiosity’s close-up of the Hottah formation, which shows bedrock made of fragments cemented together as if by running water on Mars. A nearby pile of gravel was created by erosion breaking off pieces from the outcrop.

Not far from the point where Curiosity landed, a stream once flowed down the crater rim. The vigorous flow of this stream, said to be about 3 feet per second, transported rocks across a long distance down the steep slope and finally deposited them in a fan formation on the flat plain of the crater floor.

Curiosity visited the Hottah formation on its 39th sol, or Martian day after landing. The rover is well on its way to its next destination, a site called Glenelg, 1,300 feet (400 meters) east-southeast of its touchdown site.

NASA's $2.5 billion Mars rover Curiosity landed on the Red Planet on Aug. 5, beginning a two-year mission to explore the planet's vast Gale Crater for signs that it could have once supported microbial life. The 1-ton Curiosity rover is the size of a car, making it the largest rover ever sent to explore another planet.

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Karl Tate contributor

Karl's association with goes back to 2000, when he was hired to produce interactive Flash graphics. From 2010 to 2016, Karl worked as an infographics specialist across all editorial properties of Purch (formerly known as TechMediaNetwork).  Before joining, Karl spent 11 years at the New York headquarters of The Associated Press, creating news graphics for use around the world in newspapers and on the web.  He has a degree in graphic design from Louisiana State University and now works as a freelance graphic designer in New York City.