A conference on the selection of a future landing site for the Mars Rover 2020 mission, which will look for traces of life, has ended in California.
The rover, which should start in the summer of 2020 and has not yet received an official name, should conduct astrobiological studies and search for traces of life that may have existed on the young Red Planet. Initially, eight places suitable for this job were named, but in 2017 their number was reduced to three.
The first candidate was the 49-kilometer crater Jezero. It is believed that it was once filled with water and still has retained clay deposits and structures resembling a river delta. An alternative is the northeastern lowland of Great Sirte, located at the equator. Volcanoes once worked here, exposing minerals that were formed about four billion years ago in the presence of water saturated with iron ions, in conditions that are quite suitable for microbial life.
Finally, the third option – the hills of Columbia in the crater of Gusev, in the immediate vicinity of the place where the Spirit rover worked in 2004-2010: numerous evidence of a “water” past was also found on these slopes. Already later, at the beginning of this year, experts began to consider the fourth point – the Midway section, located between the crater Jezero and the Great Sirte, which could be visited after working in one of them.
Four sections of the surface of Mars – candidate for landing a future rover / © NASA / JPL-Caltech
This meeting was already the fourth dedicated to the selection of a landing site for Mars Rover 2020. The participants discussed the prospects for a safe landing and scientific research in each of them, and 158 experts took part in the subsequent voting. Jezero crater and the northeast of Great Sirte received the most votes, and when considering the expanded mission, the leader was a combination of Jezero and Midway.
They, apparently, will be the goal of the upcoming work of Mars Rover 2020, although the final decision should be made by scientists directly working on the mission. Speaking at a meeting in California, NASA Research Director Thomas Zurbuchen (Thomas Zurbuchen) noted that the project involves the delivery of samples of Martian soil to Earth and the European partners are involved in this task. Therefore, the Jezero-Midway combination should receive their approval before it becomes the ultimate goal of a future ambitious mission.