Updated 2:12 PM EST, Wed, Jan 29, 2020

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NASA Picks Three Possible Landing Sites for Mars 2020 Rover

Mars 2020

(Photo : NASA) Top candidate: Jezero Crater.

Mars 2020

(Photo : NASA) NE Syrtis.

Mars 2020

(Photo : NASA) Gusev Crater.

NASA has identified three candidate landing sites for its ambitious Mars 2020 rover mission that will more deeply examine the possibility of past life on the Red Planet.

At the third landing site workshop for the Mars 2020 mission from Feb. 8-10, a team of scientists narrowed down the list of potential places for the rover's landing to Columbia Hills in the Gusev Crater located at 14.5°S 175.4°E; NE (Northeast) Syrtis Major (8.4°N 69.5°E) and Jezero Crater (18.855°N 77.519°E).

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Gusev Crater was the landing site of Spirit, the first of NASA's two Mars Exploration Rovers, which landed on January 3, 2004. Spirit eventually got to Columbia Hills, which is a proposed landing site for the Mars 2020 rover.

Orbital images indicate there might once have been a very large lake near the source of Ma'adim Vallis that could have provided the source of the lake water. Mineral springs once burbled-up from the rocks of Columbia Hills.

The discovery that hot springs flowed here was a major achievement of Spirit. The rover's discovery was an especially welcome surprise because Spirit had not found signs of water anywhere else in the 160 kilometer-wide Gusev Crater. After the rover stopped working in 2010, studies of its older data records showed evidence that past floods that may have formed a shallow lake in Gusev.

Syrtis Major Planum is a "dark spot" or an albedo feature that was later discovered to be a low-relief shield volcano. The dark color comes from the basaltic volcanic rock of the region and the relative lack of dust.

Volcanic activity once warmed NE Syrtis. Underground heat sources made hot springs flow and surface ice melt. Microbes could have flourished here in liquid water that was in contact with minerals.

The layered terrain of NE Syrtis holds a rich record of the interactions that occurred between water and minerals over successive periods of early Mars history.

With a diameter of 49.0 km, Jezero Crater is believed to have once been flooded with water since it contains a fan-delta deposit rich in clays. Life might also have developed in the crater since it is believed the lake was long-lived.

Jezero Crater tells a story of the on-again, off-again nature of the wet past of Mars. Water filled and drained away from the crater on at least two occasions.

During the workshop, the clear top candidate was Jezero crater. It was followed by Northeast Syrtis.

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