This image shows Gusev Crater, Spirit's landing site. The yellow oval, which is 81 km by 12 km (50 by 7 miles), indicates the area within which Spirit is expected to land. The colors in this image represent elevations. Blue and green represent lower elevations, while orange and red indicate higher ground.
Click on image for full size
MER Spirit landing site - Gusev Crater
The first of two Mars
Exploration Rovers (MER) landed within Gusev
Crater on Mars on January 3, 2004. The robotic
rover, named Spirit, bounced to a halt within an 81 km by 12 km (50 by 7
miles) target landing ellipse inside the ancient crater. Once settled into its
new "home", Spirit began its mission of exploring for geologic evidence of the
presence of water in Gusev Crater's
The MER vehicles are robotic field geologists especially designed to detect
rocks and soils that might indicate that liquid water was once present
at their landing sites on Mars. Gusev Crater, formed by the impact of an
asteroid three to four
billion years ago, may have held a large lake in the distant past. A valley
named Ma'adim Vallis, which is connected to the south side
of the crater, looks like it may have been a river channel that poured
water into the ancient lake. If that is the case, Gusev Crater should show
signs of the former presence of water in its rock and soil formations.
MER mission scientists hope to find layered, sedimentary
deposits indicating deposition of materials by flowing water. They are also
looking for types of rocks and minerals
called evaporites that form on Earth when water
dries up, leaving the minerals it contains behind. For example, evaporation
of salty water produces deposits of the mineral halite.
Gypsum or calcium magnesian sulfate
are other types of evaporites. MER is looking for carbonates (such as calcium
carbonate), which also form in the presence of water and often indicate that
living organisms were present. Wet environments are the best places to look
for life, which is why scientists
are so eager to track down places on Mars that were once wet.
Gusev Crater is about 145 km (90 miles) wide and covers an area roughly the
size of the state of Connecticut. It is located at 14.6° South latitude and
175.3° East longitude on Mars. The other MER rover, Opportunity, is exploring
an area on Mars named Meridiani
Planum on the opposite side of the Red Planet.
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