Gale is a crater, and probable dry lake, on Mars near the northwestern part of the Aeolis quadrangle at 5°24′S 137°48′E / 5.4°S 137.8°E. It is 154 km (96 mi) in diameter and estimated to be about 3.5-3.8 billion years old. The crater was named after Walter Frederick Gale, an amateur astronomer from Sydney, Australia, who observed Mars in the late 19th century. Aeolis Mons is a mountain in the center of Gale and rises 5.5 km (18,000 ft) high. Aeolis Palus is the plain between the northern wall of Gale and the northern foothills of Aeolis Mons. Peace Vallis, a nearby outflow channel, 'flows' down from the Gale crater hills to the Aeolis Palus below and seems to have been carved by flowing water.
The NASA Mars rover Curiosity, of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, landed in "Yellowknife" Quad 51 of Aeolis Palus in Gale at 05:32 UTC August 6, 2012. NASA named the landing location Bradbury Landing on August 22, 2012. Curiosity is exploring Aeolis Mons and surrounding areas.
Colorized shaded relief map of Gale crater. The general landing area for Curiosity
on the northwestern crater floor, named Aeolis Palus
, is circled. (HRSC data)
Gale crater, named for Walter F. Gale (1865-1945), an amateur astronomer from Australia, spans 154 km (96 mi) in diameter and holds a mountain, Aeolis Mons (informally named "Mount Sharp" to pay tribute to geologist Robert P. Sharp) rising 18,000 ft (5,500 m) from the crater floor, higher than Mount Rainier rises above Seattle. Gale is roughly the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island.
The crater formed when a meteor hit Mars in its early history, about 3.5 to 3.8 billion years ago. The meteor impact punched a hole in the terrain, and the subsequent explosion ejected rocks and soil that landed around the crater. Layering in the central mound (Aeolis Mons) suggests it is the surviving remnant of an extensive sequence of deposits. Some scientists believe the crater filled in with sediments and, over time, the relentless Martian winds carved Aeolis Mons, which today rises about 5.5 km (3.4 mi) above the floor of Gale—three times higher than the Grand Canyon is deep.
At 10:32 p.m. PDT on Aug. 5, 2012 (1:32 a.m. EDT on Aug. 6, 2012), the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity landed on Mars at 4°30′S 137°24′E / 4.5°S 137.4°E, at the foot of the layered mountain inside Gale crater. Curiosity landed within a landing ellipse approximately 7 km (4.3 mi) by 20 km (12 mi). The landing ellipse is about 4,400 m (14,400 ft) below Martian "sea level" (defined as the average elevation around the equator). The expected near-surface atmospheric temperatures at the landing site during Curiosity's primary mission (1 Martian year or 687 Earth days) are from −90 °C (−130 °F) to 0 °C (32 °F).
Scientists chose Gale as the landing site for Curiosity because it has many signs that water was present over its history. The crater's geology is notable for containing both clays and sulfate minerals, which form in water under different conditions and may also preserve signs of past life. The history of water at Gale, as recorded in its rocks, is giving Curiosity lots of clues to study as it pieces together whether Mars ever could have been a habitat for microbes. Gale Crater contains a number of fans and deltas that provide information about lake levels in the past, including: Pancake Delta, Western Delta, Farah Vallis delta and the Peace Vallis Fan.
An unusual feature of Gale is an enormous mound of "sedimentary debris" around its central peak, officially named Aeolis Mons (popularly known as "Mount Sharp") rising 5.5 km (18,000 ft) above the northern crater floor and 4.5 km (15,000 ft) above the southern crater floor—slightly taller than the southern rim of the crater itself. The mound is composed of layered material and may have been laid down over a period of around 2 billion years. The origin of this mound is not known with certainty, but research suggests it is the eroded remnant of sedimentary layers that once filled the crater completely, possibly originally deposited on a lakebed. Evidence of fluvial activity was observed early on in the mission at the Shaler outcrop (first observed on Sol 120, investigated extensively between Sols 309-324). Observations made by the rover Curiosity at the Pahrump Hills strongly support the lake hypothesis: sedimentary facies including sub mm-scale horizontally-laminated mudstones, with interbedded fluvial crossbeds are representative of sediments which accumulate in lakes, or on the margins of lakes which grow and contract in response to lake-level. These lake-bed mudstones are refereed to as the Murray formation, and form a significant amount of the Mount Sharp group. The Siccar Point group (named after the famous unconformity at Siccar Point) overlies the Mount Sharp group, and the two units are separated by a major unconformity which dips toward the North. At present, the Stimson formation is the only stratigraphic unit within the Siccar Point group which as been investigated in-detail by Curiosity. The Stimson formation represents the preserved expression of a dry aeolian dune field, where sediment was transported towards the North East by palaeowinds within the crater.
Observations of possible cross-bedded strata on the upper mound suggest aeolian processes, but the origin of the lower mound layers remains ambiguous.
Gale is located at about 5°24′S 137°48′E / 5.4°S 137.8°E on Mars.
Numerous channels eroded into the flanks of the crater's central mound could give access to the layers for study. Gale is the landing site of the Curiosity rover, delivered by the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, which was launched 26 November 2011 and landed on Mars at Gale crater on the plains of Aeolis Palus on 6 August 2012. Gale was previously a candidate landing site for the 2003 Mars Exploration Rover mission, and has been one of four prospective sites for ESA's ExoMars.
In December 2012, scientists working on the Mars Science Laboratory mission announced that an extensive soil analysis of Martian soil performed by Curiosity showed evidence of water molecules, sulphur and chlorine, as well as hints of organic compounds. However, terrestrial contamination, as the source of the organic compounds, could not be ruled out.
On September 26, 2013, NASA scientists reported that Curiosity detected "abundant, easily accessible" water (1.5 to 3 weight percent) in soil samples at the Rocknest region of Aeolis Palus in Gale. In addition, the rover found two principal soil types: a fine-grained mafic type and a locally derived, coarse-grained felsic type. The mafic type, similar to other martian soils and martian dust, was associated with hydration of the amorphous phases of the soil. Also, perchlorates, the presence of which may make detection of life-related organic molecules difficult, were found at the Curiosity landing site (and earlier at the more polar site of the Phoenix lander) suggesting a "global distribution of these salts". NASA also reported that Jake M rock, a rock encountered by Curiosity on the way to Glenelg, was a mugearite and very similar to terrestrial mugearite rocks.
On December 9, 2013, NASA reported that, based on evidence from Curiosity studying Aeolis Palus, Gale contained an ancient freshwater lake which could have been a hospitable environment for microbial life.
On December 16, 2014, NASA reported detecting, by the Curiosity rover at Gale Crater, an unusual increase, then decrease, in the amounts of methane in the atmosphere of the planet Mars; in addition, organic chemicals were detected in powder drilled from a rock. Also, based on deuterium to hydrogen ratio studies, much of the water at Gale Crater on Mars was found to have been lost during ancient times, before the lakebed in the crater was formed; afterwards, large amounts of water continued to be lost.
On October 8, 2015, NASA confirmed that lakes and streams existed in Gale crater 3.3 to 3.8 billion years ago delivering sediments to build up the lower layers of Mount Sharp.
On June 1, 2017, NASA reported that the Curiosity rover provided evidence of an ancient lake in Gale crater on Mars that could have been favorable for microbial life; the ancient lake was stratified, with shallows rich in oxidants and depths poor in oxidants; and, the ancient lake provided many different types of microbe-friendly environments at the same time. NASA further reported that the Curiosity rover will continue to explore higher and younger layers of Mount Sharp in order to determine how the lake environment in ancient times on Mars became the drier environment in more modern times.
On August 5, 2017, NASA celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Curiosity rover mission landing, and related exploratory accomplishments, on the planet Mars. (Videos: Curiosity's First Five Years (02:07); Curiosity's POV: Five Years Driving (05:49); Curiosity's Discoveries About Gale Crater (02:54))
On June 7, 2018, NASA's Curiosity made two significant discoveries in the Gale crater. Organic molecules preserved in 3.5 billion-year-old bedrock and seasonal variations in the level of methane in the atmosphere further support the theory that past conditions may have been conducive to life. It is possible that a form of water-rock chemistry might have generated the methane, but scientists cannot rule out the possibility of biological origins. Methane previously had been detected in Mars' atmosphere in large, unpredictable plumes. This new result shows that low levels of methane within Gale Crater repeatedly peak in warm, summer months and drop in the winter every year. Organic carbon concentrations were discovered on the order of 10 parts per million or more. This is close to the amount observed in Martian meteorites and about 100 times greater than prior analysis of organic carbon on Mars' surface. Some of the molecules identified include thiophenes, benzene, toluene, and small carbon chains, such as propane or butene.
Mars between day and night, with an area containing Gale crater, beginning to catch the morning light.
Maps of Mars - old and new - Gale is noted in the middle of the image.
Map of actual (and proposed) rover landing sites including Gale.
Map of Aeolis quadrangle - Gale is in the upper left - Aeolis Mons is in the middle of the crater.
Gale crater landing site is within Aeolis Palus near Aeolis Mons - north is down.
Ancient Lake fills Gale Crater on Mars (simulated view).
Gale sediment layers may have formed by lake or windblown particle deposition.
Curiosity landing site (green dot) - blue dot marks "Glenelg Intrigue" - blue spot marks base of Aeolis Mons - a planned area of study.
Curiosity landing site - "Yellowknife" Quad 51 (1-mi-by-1-mi) of Aeolis Palus in Gale.
First-year and first-mile traverse map of Curiosity on Mars (August 1, 2013) (3-D).
Curiosity on the way to Glenelg (September 26, 2012).
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