ANALYSIS: Dust Devils Rip Up Mars' 'Etch A Sketch' Surface
That might be exactly what happened on Mars, though whether life could have evolved and been preserved are key questions being addressed by Curiosity and the focus of follow-on missions now in the planning stages.
"The jury is out on how long an earlier, heavy atmosphere might have persisted after the late heavy bombardment, when things were flying around," said NASA's Paul Mahaffy, lead scientist for Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars suite of instruments.
"Before that, the record is probably hard to find because things probably really got changed by all these impacts. But once things settled down a little bit, it's a really important to understand what the climate conditions were," Mahaffy told Discovery News.
"The isotopes in the atmosphere and the isotopes in very old materials that we might analyze as we proceed along with the Curiosity mission are solid data points that can go into theories. Hopefully, that will give us a better prediction, if there were friendly conditions, how long they really could have persisted on the surface," he said.