Next Mars landing site narrowed down to four possible locations

Artist's conception of the InSight lander on Mars. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
Artist’s conception of the InSight lander on Mars. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The potential landing site for NASA’s next Mars mission, InSight, has now been narrowed down to four locations. All four are close to each other in the Elysium Planitia region, a large plain near the Martian equator. The four locations were narrowed down from an initial list of 22 candidates.

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Curiosity rover completes first year on Mars

View from Curiosity on sol 343 looking towards some of the foothills of Mount Sharp in the distance. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
View from Curiosity on sol 343 looking towards some of the foothills of Mount Sharp in the distance. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The Curiosity rover has successfully finished its first full year on Mars it was announced yesterday, with already some amazing discoveries and a ton of scientific data to show for it. Late in the evening on August 5, 2012 PT (August 6, 2012 ET), Curiosity descended to the ground via the most complex landing technique ever attempted on Mars, the skycrane. Many things could have gone wrong as the car-sized rover hung from the long tethers during the nail-biting descent, but happily it turned out to be a near-perfect landing.

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Ancient delta is newest evidence for Martian ocean

Topographic map from Mars Global Surveyor showing part of the lowlands region in the northern hemisphere (blue) which is thought to have once been an ocean. Credit: NASA / MOLA
Topographic map from Mars Global Surveyor showing part of the lowlands region in the northern hemisphere (blue) which is thought to have once been an ocean. Credit: NASA / MOLA

Whether or not Mars once had an ocean has been a subject of much debate for many years. There is substantial evidence pointing toward the possibility, but no “smoking gun” yet. Now, a new discovery from scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is fueling that debate again – an ancient delta that appears to have emptied into the hypothetical ocean in the northern hemisphere.

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Our home the Earth – as seen from Saturn and Mercury

Earth as seen by Cassini on July 19, 2013 - the tiny blue speck in the distance below Saturn's rings in this view. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI / Jason Major
Earth as seen by the Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013 – the tiny blue speck in the distance below Saturn’s rings in this view. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI / Jason Major

Last Friday, a remarkable thing happened, which received a lot of publicity, especially for space fans: the Earth had its photo taken – from Saturn! The Cassini spacecraft took the images, which were used for The Day the Earth Smiled event, showing the Earth as a very tiny blue speck in the distance, with Saturn and its rings looming in the foreground. Zooming in closer, the Moon can also be seen. How cool is that? But that’s not all… although it didn’t seem to get as much attention, the Earth and Moon also had their picture taken from Mercury, by the MESSENGER  spacecraft, on the same day!

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