NASA’s efforts to investigate and look out for signs of life on planet Mars are set to go on. These efforts are in the form of the Mars Rover 2020 Mission. More specifically, the mission by the 2020 rover will examine specific regions of Mars where the conditions might have been conducive to life. In the course of the investigation, the rover is expected to collect rock and soil samples, and then store them on the surface. The researchers hope that the samples will then be taken back to Earth through another mission in the future. Once the samples reach Earth, they will be analyzed for signs of any form of ancient life on the red planet. The samples will also be analyzed in special laboratories for any potential health risks. These results will then influence how future missions by humans will be undertaken.
Where is the Mars Rover 2020 Expected to Land?
With the rover scheduled to land in February of 2021, NASA has chosen three sites where the rover could land. These sites were narrowed down from a pool of about thirty locations. The top picks by Nasa are Columbia Hills, Jezero Crater and Northeast Syrtis. Let’s briefly look at the characteristics of these sites and why NASA chose them.
The Jezero Crater is a prehistoric lakebed. A statement by NASA officials suggests that microbial life could have found a way to develop in the crater. It also has a structure similar to that of a river delta. From the look of this structure, it seems that water occupied the crater and then drained at least two times. Additionally, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter identified some minerals analyzed to have been chemically transformed by water.
Searching Possible Landing Sites
Another of the top three landing spots chosen by NASA is the Columbia Hills. Explored by the Mars exploration rover Spirit, it forms part of the enormous Gusev crater. It is the only spot on the crater where the spacecraft was able to find any signs of water. In fact, the exploration by Spirit revealed evidence of mineral hot springs in the past. These traces of water perhaps explain why Columbia Hills was shortlisted by NASA as one of the three potential landing sites for the 2020 rover.
The third landing site chosen by NASA is the Northeast of Syrtis. Research suggests that an ancient volcano resulted to the warming up of the area. The heat from this volcano could then have led to the formation of hot springs and the melting of ice. The two events could then have provided a perfect environment for microbial life to thrive. NASA specifically targets the edge of these volcanos. Scientists at NASA think that this site has a lot of minerals that were transformed through encounters with water. This transformation is suspected to have occurred during the early years of planet Mars.
However, the final decision as to the particular landing site will be probably made in 2018. This would be during the fourth workshop on the mission. Should the workshop not conclusively deal with the issue of landing sites, then a further workshop will be held in 2019. The criteria to determine the best landing site includes a place where the rover can land and travel safely, a place where there are a variety of rocks and soils to be analyzed, where the best environment that supported life existed and finally where there are rocks that would hold any indication of ancient life.