The next NASA rover on Mars, dubbed March 2020 , will land in a former dry delta named Jezero, the US space agency announced Monday, looking for traces of an old microbial life on the red planet.
The chosen site, after years of debate and scientific deliberation, is the Jezero crater, which was a 500-meter-deep lake opening onto a network of rivers 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago.
The crater is 45 kilometers wide. He “may have collected and preserved ancient organic molecules and other potential microbial life indices by the water and sediments that occupied the crater billions of years ago,” Nasa said.
The space agency scientists chose Jezero for its supposed geological wealth, so that it can reveal the planet’s history, which before being cold and dry, contained lakes and perhaps oceans.
They estimate that there may be at least five types of rocks, including clays and “carbonated” rocks, where the likelihood of finding traces of ancient life is considered stronger.
Since rovers can not travel long distances in their lifetime, the choice of the initial exploration area is crucial.
Carbonated rocks (such as limestone) are the result of interactions between water, atmospheric gases and rocks, giving clues to environmental conditions at the time of their formation, said Mars Project scientist Ken Farley. 2020 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, during a conference call.
The crater is located just north of the Martian equator.
March 2020 is the first rover that will store the samples so that a future mission can pick them up.
Today, only one rover is active on Mars: Curiosity, operated by NASA since 2012, which contains its own chemical analysis laboratory.
March 2020 is expected to cost NASA $ 2.5 billion. It will be launched in July 2020, for a landing in February 2021.
The landing, like all previous missions on Mars, will be one of the most dangerous parts of the journey. It will be necessary that it is posed intact and with the place, while avoiding the dunes, rocks and other reliefs present in the crater.
Of the four Earth-like rocky planets in the solar system, Mars has the best kept “what happened in the first billion years after its formation,” said Michael Meyers, chief scientist of the solar program. Mars exploration of NASA.
“When life started on Earth, life could have started on Mars,” he said.
Unlike the Earth, Mars has no known tectonic activity, which favors the preservation of ancient traces of life, while they were engulfed by plate tectonics on our planet, very active geologically.