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NASA selects Mars' South Pole area for probe landing site

WASHINGTON (AP) -- NASA scientists have selected a gently rolling
plain near Mars' South Pole as the touchdown target for a robot
spacecraft next December.

"We chose a location with some surface features, but no cliffs
or jagged peaks," said Richard Zurek, the project chief at the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Zurek said the Mars Polar Lander site appears to have layers of
dust and ice of varying thickness that could contain a record of
climate changes.

"In a sense, digging into its surface will be like reading tree
rings or layers in an ice core," Zurek said in a statement. "In
addition, we may find evidence of soil particles that formed in
ancient seas on Mars and were later blown into the polar region."

The landing will be centered in a target zone 124 miles long and
12.4 miles wide. It is 76 degrees south latitude and 195 degrees
west longitude, near the Martian South Pole.

Scientists selected the site after studying pictures and other
data from the Mars Global Surveyor, a craft currently orbiting

The Mars Polar Lander is scheduled to touch down Dec. 3, near
the end of the spring season in the Martian southern hemisphere.
During this time, the target area will be in constant sunlight, an
important factor given that the spacecraft gets its power from
solar panels.

Mars Polar Lander was launched Jan. 3. The lander has equipment
to study the soil and to look for ice beneath the surface. Just
before the craft enters the Martian atmosphere, it will release two
penetrating probes that will punch beneath the soil surface to look
for water ice near the landing site.

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