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NASA has selected the Gale crater to be the home base for its new Mars rover Curiosity when it begins its exploration of the Red planet - scheduled for August 2012. According to NASA the crater is about 96 miles in diameter - about the size of Rhode Island and Connecticut.
More importantly, it contains a mountain that soars higher from the ground than Mount Rainier reaches over Seattle. The mountain contains layers that show a sequence of deposits that indicate water. In additon, the crater "has an alluvial fan likely formed by water-carried sediments" according to NASA.
Curiosity's primary mission is to search for life signs on Mars and is scheduled to last at least one Martian year or about two Earth years. Curiosity will contain a nuclear battery that will allow it to operate more freely that the original Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/UA
Here's an artist's model of the landing area.
"One fascination with Gale is that it's a huge crater sitting in a very low-elevation position on Mars, and we all know that water runs downhill," said John Grotzinger, the mission's project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Here's an overhead view of the Gale crater.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU