Join Donate

Ryan AndersonJuly 6, 2011

Summary of the fifth MSL landing site selection meeting

Well, after three days of fascinating science and heated discussion, the fifth and final MSL landing site workshop has come to a close, and the consensus is -- that all of the sites are pretty darn interesting.

We spent all afternoon on Wednesday [May 18] compiling a summary of information about each of the sites, broken down into the overarching hypothesis, the pros, the cons, and the uncertainties for each site. By the end of the day, most of the cons had been bumped into the "uncertainties" category, and all the sites still looked good. As a service to you, my loyal readers, and to organize my own thoughts on the sites, I am going to take the draft of this summary that is currently available on the marsoweb site, translate it from science-speak into English as much as I can. Unfortunately at the time that I wrote this the final draft had not been posted on the site (the link that claims to be the final draft was actually to draft 3) so I might be missing some of the things we added or changed on Wednesday.

I tried to condense things a bit, and removed some points that I thought were false, irrelevant or so obvious that they didn't merit their own bullet. I also added things, especially possible cons, that some people brought up which weren't captured in draft available online. I tried to be fair, but all of this tweaking and filtering on my part probably introduces my own bias. I will say that after the workshop, my mental ranking of the sites was much less clear than it was going in. That is, the science at all of the sites is good enough based on what I saw at the meeting that it's hard for me to say which one would be best.

Curiosity landing site: Eberswalde
Curiosity landing site: Eberswalde
Topographic map of the Eberswalde ellipse proposed for Curiosity's landing site

Eberswalde

Hypothesis: The remnant of a delta at Eberswalde crater and other layered rocks in the crater record the evolution of a habitable lake. The fine-grained minerals deposited by the delta concentrated and preserved organic molecules.

Pros:

Uncertainties:

Cons:

Curiosity landing site: Gale
Curiosity landing site: Gale
A morphologic map of the Curiosity landing ellipse within Gale crater.

Gale

Hypothesis: The layers in the central mound preserve a record of habitable environments over a long period of Martian history.

Pros:

Uncertainties:

Cons:

Curiosity landing site: Holden
Curiosity landing site: Holden
Topographic map of the Holden ellipse proposed for Curiosity's landing site

Holden

Hypothesis: Holden crater preserves evidence of an evolving system of flowing water and a crater lake. This system was a sustained, habitable environment.

Pros:

Uncertainties:

Cons:

Curiosity landing site: Mawrth
Curiosity landing site: Mawrth
Topographic map of the Mawrth Vallis ellipse proposed for Curiosity's landing site

Mawrth Vallis

Hypothesis: Mawrth Vallis records the geologic processes during early Martian history, when water was abundant and altered the rocks to form a wide variety of clay minerals. Because it is such an old portion of the crust that has been subjected to so much water, Mawrth would help us understand habitability on early Mars.

Pros:

Uncertainties:

Cons:

As I said above, I'm probably missing some points here, but this should at least give some idea of what the result of the public workshop was, filtered through my editing and biases. On Thursday the MSL science team met and talked about this some more, but I wasn't there and they are sworn to secrecy, so we will have to wait until the final decision is made by NASA HQ before finding out what happened during the Thursday meeting.

Read more: Mars, Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory)

You are here:
Ryan Anderson
Ryan Anderson

Planetary Scientist for U.S. Geological Survey Astrogeology Science Center
Read more articles by Ryan Anderson

Comments & Sharing
MER
Let's Change the World

Become a member of The Planetary Society and together we will create the future of space exploration.

Join Today

Emily Lakdwalla
The Planetary Fund

Support enables our dedicated journalists to research deeply and bring you original space exploration articles.

Donate