They expect to find answers in Gale Crater, a 96-mile wide impact basin that features a three-mile-high pileup of rock rising from the the crater floor. Analysis of data taken by orbiting Mars probes shows the base of the mountain has two different types of minerals that hold the chemical fingerprints of water.
Scientists believe the crater, named after Australian astronomer Walter Frederick Gale, contains geologic records from a diverse number of environments over huge spans of time, perhaps hundreds or millions of years.
"That will give us a history of some of the ancient environments on Mars, how it has changed and help us evaluate the habitability of the planet," said geologist Dawn Sumner, with the University of California at Davis.
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The rover, nicknamed 'Curiosity,' has the tools to decipher organics, but the findings wouldn't necessarily mean there is, or was, life on Mars.
"It could be carbonaceous matter that occurred in meteorites," lead scientist John Grotzinger, with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, told Discovery News.