(CNN): Mars was a warm, wet planet that was likely capable of supporting life billions of years ago. Something caused the planet to lose its atmosphere and turn into the harsh, frozen desert it is today.
The Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in 2012, has been exploring different aspects of Gale Crater on Mars to understand more about this transition from warm and wet to dry and very cold.
The latest study, gathered from data captured by one of the rover’s instruments, suggests that Mars actually transitioned back and forth between wetter and drier times before losing its surface water completely around three billion years ago.
Curiosity has been steadily climbing the 3-mile-high Mount Sharp, located at the center of Gale Crater, since 2014.
An instrument called a ChemCam sits on the rover’s mast and includes a high-resolution camera and laser that can vaporize rocks to help the rover analyze their chemical composition. ChemCam has an infrared-colored laser that can heat rock pieces to 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This vaporizes the rock and creates plasma, allowing scientists to essentially look inside the minerals and chemicals comprising the rock and peer back into the planet’s geologic history.