Martian paydirt: Barely a month along, Curiosity has a major find

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The Mars rover Curiosity has opened a new era of planetary exploration. One month after landing safely on the Martian surface, Curiosity has uncovered evidence of what may have been an ancient riverbed.

This is a milestone for a mission that has barely begun the meticulous work of uncovering the Red Planet's secrets. NASA scientists are ecstatic about the pictures Curiosity has beamed back to Earth of possible water flows.

The photos are of smooth rocks and water-transported gravel from other sites that was probably churned up when a waist-high river flow carried the material downstream when humans didn't exist on nearby Earth.

Much observation and many experiments have yet to be performed, but scientists are confident that the hypothesis that rivers once flowed on the Martian surface has been confirmed. Given that, they will move on to the next phase of the mission -- searching for carbon-based molecules, the element that all life has in common.

As it ambles to Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-high peak, Curiosity will look for carbon in areas that could have supported life. At the rate it continues to thrill and surprise NASA scientists, we shouldn't be shocked if the robot rover comes across a Motel 6 quietly ensconced in the bleak Martian landscape.

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