Gale Crater - Mars Picture of the Week

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Composite View of Gale Crater Show's Curiosity rover's Landing Spot

The Curiosity rover has returned tons of stunning images from the surface of Mars, but have you ever wondered where exactly on Mars those images were taken?

Gale Crater, and more specifically, Mount Sharp, was the target of study for Curiosity when it landed on Mars  August 6, 2012.

Gale Crater Map Location.

Gale Crater Map Location. Click to view full sized image.

And when you look at the composite image below, it's easy to see why.

Gale Crater is on the northwestern edge of the Aeolis quadrangle just below the martian equator and about 138o east (5.4oS 137.8oE).

At 154 km (96 mi) in diameter, the crater is approximately the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.  In the center of the crater is Aeolis Mons -- popularly known as Mount Sharp -- which rises nearly 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) from the crater floor.

On the northern flank, the mountain is banded by Aeolis Palus, a flat plain of ground that separates the northern wall of the crater and the northern foothills of Aeolis Mons -- as clearly seen in this composite image that looks to the southeast.

Gale Crater

Composite Image of Gale Crater. The Curiosity landing zone is circled in green at the lower edge of the crater, with Curioisty's actual landing spot shown by the green dot. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS. Click to view full size.

In the middle of the plain is the landing zone for Curiosity.  It's a little hard to make out in this view, but you can see it just below the foothills of the central mountain and a little to the right of center. The green dot in the middle of the ellipse is the actual landing spot for the rover.

In addition, an outflow channel that seems to have been carved by flowing water 'flows' down the crater hills to Aeolis Palus and can be seen just above the landing zone. This 'watermark' is one of the reasons the area was selected for study.

The image is not an actual picture of the area but is instead a composite compiled from multiple sources including:

  • Elevation data from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter,
  • Image data from the Context Camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and
  • Color information from Viking Orbiter imagery. 

​Still -- it makes for a great image -- and a great addition to our 'Mars Picture of the Week'.

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