Mars landing site narrowed down to two candidates

Possible landing targets for Mars Science Laboratory mission NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

PASADENA, Calif. - NASA is deciding between two places on Mars to send its next rover.

The space agency said that the project team and outside scientists have narrowed the options and that a final decision on the destination for the nuclear-powered rover nicknamed Curiosity will likely be made by the end of the month. The rover will touch down either in Gale Crater near the Martian equator or the Eberswalde crater in the planet's southern hemisphere.

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NASA is looking for an area to accommodate what will be the largest rover ever sent to explore Mars. The craft is about the size of a Mini Cooper and weighs approximately one ton. The agency is searching for a landing ellipse of approximately 12 miles by 14 miles So far, scientists are most intrigued by a mountain inside Gale that contains rich minerals. They're also interested in Eberswalde because it's thought to be the site of a former river delta.

Last year, the agency narrowed its list to include four possible landing sites for a landing. Besides Gale and Eberswalde, NASA announced another crater named Holden and what appears to be a flood channel known as Mawrth Vallis The latter site was ultimately removed as a possible landing area as astronomers are less familiar with its geologic history.

Engineers are prepping the rover for launch from Florida in November. It's scheduled to arrive on the red planet next summer and will study whether the site ever had an environment favorable for life to emerge.

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