NASA has revealed the landing site chosen for its future Mars 2020 rover mission. The space agency has been narrowing the selection for years, ultimately reducing its more than 60 potential locations down to a final destination: Jezero Crater on the western edge of Mars’ Isidis Planitia. This area is described as “geologically rich” with potential answers to big questions about the planet’s past.
According to NASA, which revealed its landing site today, its scientists have spent the last five years determining a destination for its future Mars mission. Dozens of potential landing sites were chosen, each evaluated and eventually dismissed. Jezero Crater stands among them as an ideal place for the Mars 2020 rover.
The crater is part of a “giant impact basin” located near Mars’ equator, according to NASA, which says this part of the planet is home to both scientifically interesting and incredibly old landscapes. The Jezero Crater measures 28 miles wide and is believed to have once housed an ancient river delta.
The presence of that ancient river means the crater may be home to ancient organic molecules and/or other preserved evidence of microbial life. NASA explains that a minimum of five different rock varieties are present in the crater; the team also anticipates the presence of minerals, including ones that may have been deposited by water from outside of the crater.
The space agency is hoping to find signs of past life and evidence that Mars was once habitable. During the mission, the Mars 2020 rover will acquire samples from both soil and rocks. NASA says it previously thought about conducting a mission in the Jezero Crater, but safely landing in this area is “prohibitive.”
Newer technological developments have paved the way for this landing site, according to NASA JPL’s Mars 2020 project scientist Ken Farley, who said:
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. But what was once out of reach is now conceivable, thanks to the 2020 engineering team and advances in Mars entry, descent and landing technologies.
NASA’s most recent rover landing on Mars took place in the Gale Crater, where Curiosity touched down in 2012. Scientists have managed to shrink Mars 2020’s landing zone area by 50-percent compared to Curiosity, which opened the door to a greater number of potential landing sites. Now that a site has been chosen, NASA’s Mars 2020 team can start working on an optimization plan to ensure the rover is best equipped for this particular destination.