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Gale Crater on Target to Become Next Mars Landing Site

from Nature News

Gale Crater, a 150-kilometre wide depression named after an Australian banker-turned-amateur astronomer, has emerged as the preferred destination for the next spacecraft to set wheels on Mars.

The proposed landing site, which includes a tantalizing 5-kilometre-high mound of ancient sediments, may have once been flooded by water. Nature has learned that it rose to the top last month following a secret ranking of four candidate sites by co-investigators working with NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, a 900-kilogram rover dubbed 'Curiosity' set to launch later this year.

The scientists' endorsement of Gale Crater does not ensure that it will be selected by NASA management. Another site, Eberswalde Crater, which contains a relic river delta and--perhaps--buried evidence of organics in the lakebed deposits into which the river flowed, was ranked a very close second. The other two sites under consideration include Mawrth Vallis, which records complex mineralogy in the oldest and longest sequence of rocks among the four sites, and Holden Crater, another site with an ancient lakebed.

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