Four months from now NASA's newest Mars mission, Curiosity will be preparing to land on the Red Planet. But where exactly will the one-ton, car sized martian science lab-rover land?
A lot of thought went into where Curiosity should land and embark on a mission dedicated to finding the precursors of life. NASA had a number of areas in mind but finally decided on a mountain located inside of an ancient crater named Gale.
Mount Sharps, informally named after prominent Cal Tech planetary geologist Robert P. Sharp, (1911-2004) , who was influential in the field and worked on several of the first Mars mission, is the landing zone.
Mount Sharp is an impressive feature that is higher than the mountains of Colorado or Mount Rainier. It is a broad feature in Gale Crater and Curiosity will land in the level area shown on the graphic by the black ellipse and make its way towards areas of interest.
As stated in the news release: "Some lower layers of Mount Sharp might tell of a lake within Gale Crater long ago, or wind-delivered sediments subsequently soaked by groundwater. Orbiters have mapped water-telltale minerals in those layers. Liquid water is a starting point in describing conditions favorable for life, but just the beginning of what Curiosity can investigate. Higher layers may be deposits of wind-blown dust after a great drying-out on Mars."
"Mount Sharp is the only place we can currently access on Mars where we can investigate this transition in one stratigraphic sequence," said Caltech's John Grotzinger, chief scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory. "The hope of this mission is to find evidence of a habitable environment; the promise is to get the story of an important environmental breakpoint in the deep history of the planet. This transition likely occurred billions of years ago -- maybe even predating the oldest well-preserved rocks on Earth."
This will be an amazing mission to watch via the Internet and it may be historic in that we may finally put to rest the question of whether Mars could have supported life in the past. But asI have said before, I think there is a very good chance that one day we will find life on Mars. As to whether Curiosity accomplishes the former or the latter only time will tell.
Sky Guy in VA