Gale (crater)

Gale (crater)

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Gale is a crater
Impact crater
In the broadest sense, the term impact crater can be applied to any depression, natural or manmade, resulting from the high velocity impact of a projectile with a larger body...

 on Mars
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

, near the border of the lowlands of Elysium Planitia
Elysium Planitia
Elysium Planitia is the second largest volcanic region on Mars, after Tharsis Montes. It is centered at . It includes volcanoes, from north to south, Hecates Tholus, Elysium Mons and Albor Tholus. Another large volcano, Apollinaris Mons, lies south of the others. Besides having large volcanoes,...

 at 4.6°S 137.2°E. It is 154 km in diameter and believed to be about 3.5 to 3.8 billion years old. The crater was named after Walter Frederick Gale
Walter Frederick Gale
Walter Frederick Gale was an Australian banker. Gale was born in Paddington, Sydney. He had a strong interest in astronomy and built his first telescope in 1884....

, an amateur astronomer who observed Mars in the late 19th century and described the presence of canals.

Characteristics


An unusual feature of Gale is an enormous mound of debris around its central peak, rising 5.5 km above the northern crater floor and 4.5 km 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. However, there is debate around this issue. Observations of possible cross-bedded strata on the upper mound suggest Aeolian processes, but the origin of the lower mound layers remains ambiguous.

Spacecraft exploration


Numerous channels eroded into the flanks of the crater's central mound could give access to the layers for study. Gale will be the primary landing site for the Mars Science Laboratory
Mars Science Laboratory
The Mars Science Laboratory is a National Aeronautics and Space Administration mission with the aim to land and operate a rover named Curiosity on the surface of Mars. The MSL was launched November 26, 2011, at 10:02 EST and is scheduled to land on Mars at Gale Crater between August 6 and 20, 2012...

 which was launched 26 November 2011 and will land on Mars at Gale Crater between 6–20 August 2012. Gale was previously a candidate landing site for the 2003 Mars Exploration Rover
Mars Exploration Rover
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Mission is an ongoing robotic space mission involving two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, exploring the planet Mars...

 mission, and is one of four prospective sites for ESA's ExoMars
ExoMars
ExoMars is a European-led robotic mission to Mars currently under development by the European Space Agency with collaboration by NASA...

.

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