As of June 2012, the target landing area for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission is the ellipse marked on this image of Gale Crater. The ellipse is about 12 miles long and 4 miles wide (20 kilometers by 7 kilometers). The diameter of Gale Crater is 96 miles (154 kilometers). If landing goes well, the mission's rover, Curiosity, will drive in subsequent months to science destinations on Mount Sharp, outside of the landing ellipse.
A reduction in the size of the ellipse in June 2012 was based on analysis yielding increasing confidence in the precision capabilities of the mission's system for getting from the top of the Martian atmosphere to the surface. Using the smaller ellipse, the Mars Science Laboratory Project also moved the center of the target closer to Mount Sharp, which holds geological layers that are the prime destinations for the rover. Landing will be the evening of Aug. 5, 2012, Pacific Daylight Time (early Aug. 6 Universal Time and Eastern Time).
This oblique view of Mount Sharp is derived from a combination of elevation and imaging data from three Mars orbiters. The view is looking toward the southeast. Mount Sharp rises about 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) above the floor of Gale Crater.
The image combines elevation data from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter, image data from the Context Camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and color information from Viking Orbiter imagery. There is no vertical exaggeration in the image.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory mission for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.