Space Science Reviews

, Volume 170, Issue 1–4, pp 739–773 | Cite as

Surface Properties of the Mars Science Laboratory Candidate Landing Sites: Characterization from Orbit and Predictions

  • R. L. Fergason
  • P. R. Christensen
  • M. P. Golombek
  • T. J. Parker


This work describes the interpretation of THEMIS-derived thermal inertia data at the Eberswalde, Gale, Holden, and Mawrth Vallis Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) candidate landing sites and determines how thermophysical variations correspond to morphology and, when apparent, mineralogical diversity. At Eberswalde, the proportion of likely unconsolidated material relative to exposed bedrock or highly indurated surfaces controls the thermal inertia of a given region. At Gale, the majority of the landing site region has a moderate thermal inertia (250 to 410 J m−2 K−1 s−1/2), which is likely an indurated surface mixed with unconsolidated materials. The primary difference between higher and moderate thermal inertia surfaces may be due to the amount of mantling material present. Within the mound of stratified material in Gale, layers are distinguished in the thermal inertia data; the MSL rover could be traversing through materials that are both thermophysically and compositionally diverse. The majority of the Holden ellipse has a thermal inertia of 340 to 475 J m−2 K−1 s−1/2 and consists of bed forms with some consolidated material intermixed. Mawrth Vallis has a mean thermal inertia of 310 J m−2 K−1 s−1/2 and a wide variety of materials is present contributing to the moderate thermal inertia surfaces, including a mixture of bedrock, indurated surfaces, bed forms, and unconsolidated fines. Phyllosilicates have been identified at all four candidate landing sites, and these clay-bearing units typically have a similar thermal inertia value (400 to 500 J m−2 K−1 s−1/2), suggesting physical properties that are also similar.


Mars Surface properties Thermal inertia MSL 



Attendance at the landing site workshops greatly enhanced our understanding of various components of each site. Specifically, discussions with Kenneth Edgett (MSSS), Justin Hagerty (USGS), Michael Kraft (ASU), and Ashwin Vasavada (JPL) on various aspects related to these sites greatly helped place our findings in a broader context. Kenneth Herkenhoff (USGS), Kenneth Tanaka (USGS), Kenneth Edgett (MSSS), and an anonymous reviewer provided comments that greatly improved the presentation of this work. Trent Hare (USGS) and Ryan Luk (then at ASU) helped produce products that have been released to the public (; Ryan Luk was invaluable for helping develop mosaic scripts and generating early versions of the daytime IR, nighttime IR, and visible mosaics and the nighttime IR over daytime IR overlay images available online. Daytime IR, nighttime IR, qualitative (8-bit) thermal inertia, and visible image mosaic generation for the initial 36 proposed landing sites (as of June 2006) was funded by the Mars Odyssey Project Office. The thermal inertia analysis and generation and analysis of predicted temperature maps were funded by a JPL subcontract through the Critical Data Products program.


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Copyright information

© US Government 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. L. Fergason
    • 1
  • P. R. Christensen
    • 2
  • M. P. Golombek
    • 3
  • T. J. Parker
    • 3
  1. 1.Astrogeology Science CenterU.S. Geological SurveyFlagstaffUSA
  2. 2.Mars Space Flight FacilityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  3. 3.Jet Propulsion LaboratoryCalifornia Institute of TechnologyPasadenaUSA

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