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NASA Picks Ancient River Delta As Landing Site For Next Martian Rover Mission

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An artist's illustration of a rover landing in Mars. NASA has announced the landing site of the Mars 2020 rover. Out of more than 60 options, experts have chosen Jezero Crater.   ( NASA )

NASA's still unnamed Mars 2020 rover will land in Jezero Crater where, scientists believe, a river delta was once located.

The Mars 2020 rover mission will be looking signs of past microbial life and collect samples of rocks that will be retrieved by future explorers.

Mars 2020 Landing Site

"The landing site in Jezero Crater offers geologically rich terrain, with landforms reaching as far back as 3.6 billion years old, that could potentially answer important questions in planetary evolution and astrobiology," revealed Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, in a statement. "Getting samples from this unique area will revolutionize how we think about Mars and its ability to harbor life."

The Jezero Crater can be found on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, an impact basin north of the equator. Scientists believe that water flowed in the 28-mile wide crater billions of years ago.

The spot was chosen by a panel made up of experts from the scientific communities. More than 60 other options were considered, including Columbia Hills, Midway, and NE Syrtis.

NASA revealed that there has always been an interest to explore Jezero Crater. Scientists have considered landing previous rovers on the site, but its landscape was not ideal.

Along with the ancient river delta, the site is also surrounded with small impact craters, boulders and rocks, cliffs, and depressions filled with aeolian bedforms that can trap a rover.

Since then, however, landing technology has improved. NASA assured that mission engineers have reduced the landing zone of Mars 2020 to 50 percent smaller than Curiosity's in 2012 at Gale Crater. This allowed the space agency to consider more challenging sites such as Jezero Crater.

Mars 2020 Mission

The Mars 2020 rover is part of the Mars Exploration Program, NASA's long-term robotic exploration of the red planet. Aside from looking for ancient microbial life, the mission's goal is to investigate for signs of habitable conditions in Earth's neighbor in preparation for the arrival of humans.

The still unnamed rover is equipped with a drill to collect core samples of rocks and soils. From the Jezero Crater, NASA hopes to obtain samples of at least five different kinds of rocks, including clays and carbonates that can preserve signatures of life.

NASA's Mars 2020 mission is scheduled to launch by July or August 2020 and land in Jezero Crater by February 2021.

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