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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Curiosity rover at Shaler rock outcrop

Front Hazcam image of Shaler on sol 313. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
Front Hazcam image of Shaler on sol 313. Mount Sharp is in the background. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Curiosity is now back at the intriguing Shaler rock outcrop, after having initially passed it during its first trip into Yellowknife Bay in Gale crater. Shaler consists largely of “stepped” flat rock slabs which stand out from the surrounding rocks and soil. It’s origin isn’t known yet, but may be connected to the fact that this area was once very wet, with flowing streams and possibly a lake, according to findings so far by the rover. Curiosity’s findings here should be interesting, and then the journey begins to the layered foothills, buttes and mesas of Mount Sharp!

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