While scientists were interested in a mysterious mountain on Mars, they now believe it was primarily built by wind rather than water.
Mount Sharp, which is 3.4 miles high, is made of layers of lakebed silt. This was the main reason it was selected as Curiosity's ultimate destination, but a new study indicates that wind was the creator of the mountain.
"Our work doesn't preclude the existence of lakes in Gale Crater, but suggests that the bulk of the material in Mount Sharp was deposited largely by the wind," study co-author Kevin Lewis of Princeton University said.
Curiosity has already explored some major areas of Mars, including a site called Yellowknife Bay which was once capable of supporting life. Next up is sending it to the base of Mount Sharp.
Though scientists believe the majority of the mountain was built by wind, they do believe that its foothills were exposed to liquid water very long ago. Once the rover begins surveying the area, scientists will be able to determine the planet's environmental history.
"Every day and night you have these strong winds that flow up and down the steep topographic slopes. It turns out that a mound like this would be a natural thing to form in a crater like Gale," Lewis said. "Contrary to our expectations, Mount Sharp could have essentially formed as a free-standing pile of sediment that never filled the crater."
Even if the mountain was simply made by wind, Curiosity's study of it will still be productive.
"One way or another, we're going to get an incredible history book of all the events going on while that sediment was being deposited," Lewis said. "I think Mount Sharp will still provide an incredible story to read. It just might not have been a lake."