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Professor Doug Jerolmack and colleagues report the first-ever method to quantitatively estimate the transport distance of river pebbles from their shape alone

While new evidence suggests that Mars may harbor a tiny amount of liquid water, it exists today as a largely cold and arid planet. Three billion years ago, however, the situation may have been much different.

In 2012 the Mars Curiosity rover beamed images back to Earth containing some of the most concrete evidence that water once flowed in abundance on the planet. Small, remarkably round and smooth pebbles suggested that an ancient riverbed had once carried these rocks and abraded them as they traveled.

To Douglas Jerolmack, a Penn geophysicist, and his collaborator Gábor Domokos, a mathematician at Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Curiosity's findings raised a fundamental geological question: Can we use shape alone to interpret the transport history of river pebbles—on Mars, Earth, or any planet?

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Department of Earth and Environmental Science / University of Pennsylvania, 251 Hayden Hall, 240 South 33rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6316