At 10:32 p.m. PDT on Aug. 5, 2012 (1:32 a.m. EDT on Aug. 6, 2012), the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, landed on Mars at 4.5 degrees south latitude, 137.4 degrees east longitude, at the foot of a layered mountain inside Gale Crater. The crater is named for Australian astronomer Walter F. Gale (1865-1945).
The Curiosity rover landed at the foot of a layered mountain within this massive crater. The portion of the crater where Curiosity landed has an alluvial fan likely formed by water-carried sediments. The layers at the base of the mountain contain clays and sulfates, both known to form in water. Curiosity will go beyond the "follow-the-water" strategy of recent Mars exploration. The rover's science payload can identify other ingredients of life, such as the carbon-based building blocks of biology called organic compounds.
Minerals called clays and sulfates are byproducts of water. They also may preserve signs of past life--if it existed, that is! The history of water at Gale, as recorded in its rocks, will give Curiosity lots of clues to study as it pieces together whether Mars ever could have been a habitat for small life forms called microbes. Gale is special because we can see both clays and sulfate minerals, which formed in water under different conditions.
Curiosity landed within a landing ellipse approximately 4 miles wide and 12 miles long (7 kilometers by 20 kilometers). The landing ellipse is about 14,400 feet (4,400 meters) below Martian "sea level" (defined as the average elevation around the equator). The expected near-surface atmospheric temperatures at the Gale Crater landing site during Curiosity's primary mission (1 Martian year or 687 Earth days) are from - 130 F to 32 F (-90 C to 0 C).
Layering in the central mound (Mount Sharp) suggests it is the surviving remnant of an extensive sequence of deposits. Some scientists believe the crater filled in with sediments and, over time, the relentless Martian winds carved Mount Sharp, which today rises about 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) above the floor of Gale Crater—three times higher than the Grand Canyon is deep!
News releases about Gale Crater:
|Location:||4.5 degrees south latitude
137.4 degrees east longitude
|Diameter:||96 miles (154 kilometers)|
|Elevation:||14,400 feet (4,400 meters) below Martian "sea level"|
|Temperature Range:||From -130 °F to 32 °F (-90 °C to 0 °C)|
|Landing Ellipse:||4 miles wide and 12 miles long (7 kilometers by 20 kilometers)|
|Exact Landing Site:||4.59 degrees south
137.44 degrees east
|Landing Site Name:||Bradbury Landing|
|Crater mound height:||3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) above the crater floor|
|Local time at landing:||Approximately 3 p.m. Mars local time|
|Landed:||10:32 p.m. PDT, Aug. 5, 2012
(1:32 a.m. EDT, Aug. 6, 2012)