NASA is planning to land the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) and the rover Curiosity on the surface of the Red Planet on August 5, and one scientist previewing the event said he’s looking forward to finding a “geologist’s paradise” in the spot that’s been identified as the landing zone.
The spot — scouted out by previous observations — is known as Gale Crater, and several geologic features of the site may reveal a great deal about Mars’ geohistory, said John Grotzinger, an MSL project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology. During an August 2 press briefing at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, Grotzinger showed reporters an aerial view of the Martian surface that looks like an alluvial fan or a river delta.
“This feature looks just like the kinds of things that are formed by water on Earth,” Grotzinger said. “We’ve always wanted to land on something on Mars that looked like water was flowing in advance; well, here it is.”
Where there is water, signs of life may be detected by the sophisticated instruments MSL carries to the planet, the first time NASA has landed laboratory capabilities on another planet. After its eight-month, 570-million-kilometer journey to Mars, the rover Curiosity will spend almost two years gathering and analyzing rock, soil and air samples. Everything the rover discovers about Mars will inform and support a human mission to the planet in the future.