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NASA Picks Ancient Martian River Delta for 2020 Rover Touchdown

23 November 2018
NASA Picks Ancient Martian River Delta for 2020 Rover Touchdown

Midway and Northeast Syrtis are close enough that it's possible the Mars 2020 rover could eventually roll that way from Jezero Crater, although mission managers say it's way too early to decide whether to do so.

"The Mars community has long coveted the scientific value of sites such as Jezero Crater, and a previous mission contemplated going there, but the challenges with safely landing were considered prohibitive", said Ken Farley, project scientist for Mars 2020 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The US$2.5 billion (RM10.5 billion) rover is planned to launch in July 2020, and land in February 2021. The robot jeep will also take samples of rock and the soil, and store them in a kind of storage place.

The site offers a "geologically rich terrain" featuring landforms that date back billions of years.

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

At least five different kinds of rocks, including "clays and carbonates that have high potential to preserve signatures of past life", are believed to lie in the crater, just north of the Martian equator, the USA space agency said in a statement.

Why Jezero Crater? The 28-mile-wide crater, which used to be the site of a river delta, is in an area that includes some of Mars's oldest and most scientifically significant landscapes. Scientists claim that signs of organic molecules, and possibly microbial life, could be preserved in the delta.

NASA/JPL-CaltechAn illustration of NASA's Mars 2020 rover exploring the Martian surface. As we have already mentioned, the crater, Jezero interesting not only in itself, but the proximity to the site of midway, which is less than 30 kilometers and can be visited by the Rover at the second stage of the work.

"It's a Thursday", said Allen Chen, who's leading the entry, descent and landing team for what's now known as NASA's Mars 2020 rover.

As the space agency counts down the days until its arrival, here's everything you need to know about the lander and its mission. It was one of more than 60 sites that NASA eyed during years of consideration.

An artist illustration of the InSight lander on Mars.

For NASA's InSight spacecraft, it all comes down to the final six minutes of a six-month journey to Mars.