Potential MSL Site: Gale Crater

I am sort of breaking my own protocol here by posting about Gale crater before I hear the presentations today, but since we will immediately go into discussion and decision making after it is presented this morning, I figured that it would be good to familiarize you with it now.

Gale is a ~100 km diameter crater on Mars with a huge 5 km tall mound of sediments in the middle that is taller than parts of the rim! The fact that this mound is so high implies that the crater is likely very old and has been completely buried and then re-exhumed by erosion. There are a lot of other craters on Mars with central mounds, and other craters that are still buried (we can detect them with other means), indicating that this sort of thing is quite common and that Gale could say something about a common process across the planet.

The landing site would be on a fan of debris from a channel flowing down from the crater wall. These channels are common on the rim and central mound, and indicate that Gale was probably a closed watershed, and may indicate that it was a lake.

The central mound is the real interest for this mission though. It shows layers of clays and sulfates on top of one another, both of which are good at preserving life in some conditions. There is also an erosional unconformity (a.k.a. a gap in time in the layers) that indicates that at some point, whatever was depositing stuff in the crater stopped for a while and erosion took over. Then more stuff started piling on again to form the top of the mound, which we know has been eroded back down. All of this indicates an interesting story and a lot of information about early Mars.

One of the criticisms that I think will be leveled at Gale is that the whole mound could be wind-deposited. One response to this anticipated criticism that I have heard is that “if there was never a lake in Gale crater, there was never a lake anywhere on Mars”. I don’t know how true that is, but we also heard that just because things were transported doen’t mean they don’t hold a lot of information.

Personally, I think Gale is a pretty good site, but to be fair, I haven’t witnessed it go through the post presentation beating that the other sites have taken, so my mind may change. I also think that some people who have a lot of influence on the later steps of this process like Gale. In any case, the 5 km stack of sediment would give the rover plenty to do for several extended missions. And think of the view from high up on that stack!

Explore posts in the same categories: Astrobiology, Clays, MSL, NASA, Uncategorized, Water on Mars

9 Comments on “Potential MSL Site: Gale Crater”

  1. Briony Says:

    After reading all of these, Gale is still my favorite. Go Gale! I can’t wait to hear how the discussion is going.

  2. Ryan Says:

    Gale got hit pretty hard in the discussion because there is no way to be 100% sure that the layers involved a lake. One response to that was that, other than Eberswalde, you can’t be sure of a lake anywhere on Mars. Still, I think that based on the criteria we voted on, Gale has a decent chance of making it.


  3. […] Laboratory (MSL) en ook nog eens gestemd. Daar kwam de volgende top 3 uit: Eberswalde, Holden en Gale. Het zijn slechts aanbevelingen, want een zogenaamde project science group gaat er nog definitief […]


  4. […] Gale Crater – The rover would land on an ancient alluvial fan and then work its way up a mound of sediments many kilometers high. […]


  5. […] check out my old blog posts about the sites from the last time one of these workshops was held (Gale, Holden, Mawrth and Eberswalde). I’m going to do my best to take notes and blog about the […]

  6. Gale Says:

    Well I sure hope they choose Gale Crater

  7. george Says:

    WHAT IF THE DARN LANDER WINDS UP IN LOOSE SOIL ERODED FROM UP HIGH ON THE CENTRAL PEAK! HAVE ANY OF YOU EVER STEPPED IN SAND WASHED AWAY FROM HIGHER UP? IT CAN BE LOOSE AND BOGGY. BE A REAL BAD DAY FOR THE GENIUSES AT NASA IF THE ROVER GETS STUCK ON LANDING AND GOES NOWHERE…

  8. Jim Says:

    I love this stuff. Wouldn’t it be great if they discoverred some strange fossil?

  9. george Says:

    Jim I hope they discover fossils made of gold or platinum; that way we will be sure to see a bunch of Mars missions in our life time.


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