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This image shows the landing site for the Mars Pathfinder mission. Viewing of the large version of this image is recommended.
Click on image for full size
Image from: NASA/JPL

The Mars Pathfinder Landing Site

Mars Pathfinder landed in a valley of Mars called Ares Vallis, shown in this picture. Ares Vallis is near Xanthe Terra, which can be seen on the large map of Mars. The picture to the left is low-resolution and turned sideways. You have to click on the image to see everything.

This spot was chosen for the landing site because scientists thought that like Earth, Mars had "flood plains", that is fields created by rivers. On a floodplain, water carries different kinds of rocks from higher up to lower places and leaves them there. Ares Vallis is just such a plain. Thus scientists expected to find many different sorts of rocks to experiment with. Rocks may have come from mountains around the landing site, some of which are 30 kilometers away, to the south, as viewed in the big image. These outcroppings may be composed of andesite or basalt, both of which are igneous rock.

Following the Rover experiments however, the origin of the rocks of the plain became less clear. Reasons why the landing site may be different than expected include:

  • the nature of the flood plain, which the Rover observed up close
  • the presence of nearby impact craters, particularly one called "Big Crater", better seen in the big image.
Scientists examined the rocks and soils around the Rover carefully to prove what the landing site was like.


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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA