NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has found new evidence that ancient lakes and rivers flowed on the red planet billions of years ago. Scientists said Monday that the presence of long-lasting water sources above ground might have provided suitable conditions for microbial life. It would challenge the long-standing theory that water on Mars was either underground or appeared only for a short while in a few areas.

NASA's Curiosity Rover Finds New Signs Of Water On Mars

NASA combined new findings with the old ones

Curiosity landed on the red planet in August 2012. It has been exploring a 96-mile wide site called Gale Crater. Latest images from the probe show stacks of rocks with water-deposited sediments sloping toward the crater’s center. It now has a five-kilometer mound called Mount Sharp. It indicates that Mount Sharp didn’t exist when the crater was filled with water, about 3.5 billion years ago. Water in Gale Crater probably flowed for tens of millions of years.

Scientists combined new findings with over two years of data that Curiosity has sent back to the Earth. Earlier, Curiosity had found evidence that Mars had the environmental conditions and chemical ingredients to support microbial life. Then the probe started moving towards Mount Sharp to look for other evidence. One of the biggest questions before NASA scientists is whether life-supporting environmental conditions existed on Mars long enough for life forms to evolve.

Life on Mars likely thrived billions of years ago

Michael Meyer, a NASA’s Mars Exploration Program scientist, said that the size of the lake and the length of time imply that there might have been sufficient time for life to thrive. The new findings also indicate a series of wet and dry periods at Gale Crater. The study implies that the red planet had been far wetter and warmer in the first two years than previously believed.

Curiosity has traveled about five miles (eight kilometers) from its landing site towards Mount Sharp. On its way, the rover found several banded sediments deposited by ancient rivers. Latest findings reveal that the fluvial activity ended in lakes and deltas at the crater’s center.