Sci-tech

NASA's next Mars rover will land at one of these three sites

NASA's next Mars rover will land at one of these three sites

NASA's Mars 2020 mission is a highly anticipated space project. Spirit finally gave up the ghost in 2010, while Opportunity is still plugging along on the other side of the Red Planet. When the Curiosity mission went through its planning process, Gale Crater was unveiled as the landing site a year before launch. That was a question scientists tackled during a third landing site workshop for the mission last week.

Mars once had water, and could perhaps even have harbored life as we know it. One of the most important objectives of the Mars 2020 rover is to find some evidence of life on Mars.

The emphasis of NASA's Mars 2020 mission is searching for signs of life, whilst also laying the ground work for future missions to return samples to Earth.

Scientists have shortlisted three landing sites for NASA's Mars 2020 rover - slated for launch in July 2020.

Jezero Crater: Based on orbital imagery, scientists suspect that water filled up and drained away this crater on at least two occasions. Making the decision is a complex process, as teams of scientists and engineers develop navigational software, optimize the payload, and establish the geologic context of potential landing sites. That's why the three final landing sites all have one thing in common: they used to be watery. Columbia Hills could be a controversial choice: Over the weekend, Nature reported that the idea of revisiting that site received a low rating from scientists at the workshop.


Candidate 1: Columbia Hills in the Gusev Crater shows evidence that it was once home to a hot mineral spring. So, it was the ideal site to look for signs of life on the red planet.

The second-most recommended site for the rover is Northeast Syrtis, which like Jezero Crater, is near old volcanic rocks. It had hot water circulating under its crust. Microbes could have flourished here in liquid water that was in contact with minerals.

And the winners - drumroll please - were, in some sort of preferential order, Jezero Crater, Northeast Syrtis, and the Columbia Hills. The entire Mars 2020 Rover mission will be created and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the agency's headquarters in Washington.

The picks were made after a three-day brainstorming session, and the final choices will be confirmed a year before the mission.

Speaking about Mars 2020 a year ago, Geoffrey Yoder, acting associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said, "This mission marks a significant milestone in NASA's Journey to Mars - to determine whether life has ever existed on Mars, and to advance our goal of sending humans to the red planet".


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