NASA has officially announced the landing site for its upcoming Mars 2020 rover. In a new blog post, the space agency revealed that it has selected Jezero Crater as the landing area for its six-wheeled robot.
Before making the final selection, NASA scrutinised more than 60 candidate locations across the planet and considered a number of factors, including the safety of the rover and its ability to travel. The space agency then narrowed the list down to four sites - Jezero, Northeast Syrtis, Midway, and the near-equatorial Columbia Hills site.
According to NASA, the 45-kilometres-wide Jezero Crater is located on the western edge of Isidiis Planitia (an impact basin), that hosted a 250-metres deep lake about 3.9 billion to 3.5 billion years ago.
The site offers a "geologically rich terrain" featuring landforms that date back billions of years. Scientists also believe that the crater could have preserved ancient organic molecules from the water that flowed at this site billions of years ago.
"Getting samples from this unique area will revolutionise how we think about Mars and its ability to harbor life," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.
The body design of Mars 2020 rover is based heavily on the Curiosity rover that arrived on Mars in August 2012 and has been exploring Gale Crater since then.
NASA's 2020 Mars rover mission will try to search for signs of past microbial life and habitable conditions on the Red Planet. It will be equipped with seven different instruments, including high-resolution cameras, spectrometres, ground-penetrating radar, and a weather station, which will enable it to perform various tasks.
The rover will collect rock and soil samples that will likely be retrieved by the future Mars missions and sent to Earth. NASA thinks examining such rock samples in the sophisticated labs on Earth could lead to new findings that are difficult for a robot to make all by itself.
The rover will carry a gear to generate oxygen from the air. NASA believes successful demonstration of the technology would be handy during future manned missions to the Red Planet.
If everything goes as per current schedules, Mars 2020 rover will launch on 17 July 2020, and touch down on 18 February 2021.
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