NASA picks Jezero Crater for Mars 2020 rover landing site

NASA picks Jezero Crater for Mars 2020 rover landing site

NASA picks Jezero Crater for Mars 2020 rover landing site

Jezero Crater will be where NASA's yet-to-be-named rover will land on February 18, 2021, the space agency announced today. The rover which is expected to land on February 18, 2021 will search for ancient life as well as collect soil samples from the Red Planet.

NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) are studying future mission concepts to retrieve the samples and return them to Earth, so this landing site sets the stage for the next decade of Mars exploration.

"Mars is really the obvious place, after the Moon, to go and expand our presence in deep space", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of Nasa's science mission directorate.

Knowing more about the ability for life to exist on Mars in the distant past could inform us about how life evolved on Earth.

Jezero Crater is located on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator.

Zurbuchen believes that his Mars 2020 engineering team has worked very hard to ensure a safe landing on the crater. It may have been collected and stored through water and sediments, former organic molecules and other indications of microbiological life in the crater. "A delta is extremely good at preserving bio-signatures-any evidence of life that might have existed in the lake water. or possibly things that lived in the headwaters region that were swept in by the river and deposited in the delta", project scientist Ken Farley tells the BBC.

The material carried into the delta from a large watershed may contain a wide variety of minerals from inside and outside the crater.

NASA picks Jezero Crater for Mars 2020 rover landing site
NASA picks Jezero Crater for Mars 2020 rover landing site

Scientists have debated where to land the rover for the past four years, and whittled down their decision from more than 60 possible sites.

Jezero Crater is 45 km in size.

Along with the ancient river delta, the site is also surrounded with small impact craters, boulders and rocks, cliffs, and depressions filled with aeolian bedforms that can trap a rover.

The six-wheeled, plutonium-powered Mars 2020 rover is built on the same basic design as NASA's Curiosity rover, which has been exploring Mars' Gusev Crater for more than six years. A final report will be presented to an independent review board and NASA Headquarters in the fall of 2019.

An artist's illustration of a rover landing in Mars. NASA has been flying past, orbiting, landing and roving over Mars since 1965.

Nasa is hoping to make a historic landing on Mars next Monday. The lander was launched from the Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central coast of California on May 5, 2018 and has been hurtling through space towards our closest neighbour ever since.

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