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Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Location for NASA’s Next Mars Rover Is Even More Intriguing Than We Realized

The Location for NASA’s Next Mars Rover Is Even More Intriguing Than We Realized - rictasblog.com


Satellite observations of Jezero crater on Mars, the chosen landing site for NASA’s next rover mission, have revealed proof of minerals that are exceptionally good at preserving traces of ancient life, creating this an even better place to send the rover than at first thought.

If primitive life existed on Mars billions of years ago—and that’s still a big if—there’s an excellent chance the fossilized remains of this life might be found in Jezero crater, according to a pair of recent studies. this is often exceptionally excellent news, only if NASA’s yet-to-be-named 2020 rover will be launched to the current exact spot next year.

That Jezero crater is a wonderful target for the rover is few surprise, because it was carefully chosen by NASA thanks to its potentially life-friendly properties, or at least its former potentially life-friendly properties. Billions of years past, this 49-kilometer-wide (30-mile) crater was brimming with water, that flowed into it from a large near  watershed and its associated rivers. once Mars was hotter than it's these days, the lake within Jezero crater might are liveable, hosting basic microorganism life just like bacterium. accordingly, NASA desires the 2020 rover to explore clay minerals within the crater and examine its sediment layers, but the latest research points to another tantalizing science targets.


In a paper published in geophysical Letters, an exploration team LED by Brown University PhD. student Jesse Tarnas describes the invention of hydrated silica in rocky outcrops located on the edge of an ancient river delta. this is big news because hydrated silica, a style of silicon dioxide, is known to preserve fossilized evidence of ancient life on Earth.

And in a very separate paper published in Icarus, an exploration team LED by briony Horgan from Purdue University describes the presence of carbonates within Jezero crater, a mineral that’s conjointly superb at conserving traces of ancient life and different vital biosignatures.

Both of those discoveries were created possible by the Compact reconnaissance Imaging spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), set on NASA’s Mars reconnaissance orbiter (MRO). because hydrated silica yields weak spectral signals, Tarnas and his colleagues were ready to ensure the signatures by applying 2 big data processing methods. to smell out the carbonates, Horgan and her team used the CRISM data in conjunction with high-resolution imaging and geographics models of the Martian surface.

Going into the project, Tarnas and his colleagues weren’t necessarily expecting to seek out proof of hydrous oxide.

“We started the project by applying a new data analysis method that we developed for hyperspectral pictures, that we wont to get compositional data of the surface of Mars from orbit, to pictures of Jezero crater and also the surrounding region,” Tarnas wrote to Gizmodo in associate email. “When we have a tendency to started, Jezero crater had not nevertheless been chosen as the landing site for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, therefore we were curious about finding new minerals or mineral assemblages each inside and outdoors of Jezero, since another final candidate landing site—NE Syrtis—was extremely close by.”

When the ancient rivers flowed into the crater, they transported minerals from the watershed, manufacturing a fan-delta deposit that’s currently made in clay materials. As described within the geophysical Letters paper, a hydrated Silica deposit is found on the sting of this delta at an occasional elevation. this implies the minerals shaped at all-time low of the delta, referred to as the bottomset layer, so creating it a first-rate spot for the 2020 rover to research.

“These minerals and mineral assemblages tell us regarding the conditions below that water and rock have interacted during this region of Mars,” said Tarnas. “Most of this water-rock interaction befell billions of years past. a number of these water-rock chemical reactions manufacture habitable environments, together with the probable habitable setting of Jezero crater’s ancient lake, that shaped via physical movement of water over rock.”

Strong signatures of carbonates were detected on the western inner rim of Jezero crater, that Horgan represented as a “bathtub ring” in a very NASA announcement. Carbonates usually kind in shallow and heat seas, and sometimes in conjunction with biological activity, thence the interest in carbonates on Mars. On Earth, carbonates contribute to the fossilization of structures like seashells, corals, and, significantly, stromatolites—rocky structures shaped by huge clumps of microorganism life. Admittedly, traces of seashells and coral on Mars are extremely unlikely, however proof of bacteria-like microorganisms, well, that’s a special story.

In terms of what this preserved Martian life may seem like, Tarnas said it might “probably seem like microbial cells permineralized within the hydrated oxide, which suggests oxide grew in the areas separating cell walls, and also the rock containing the microfossils would possible be made in complicated organics.” He said it would look just like ancient microfossils found within the oxide of ancient rocks, together with 3.4-billion-year-old fossils found in South Africa and Australia.

Excitingly, each the hydrated Silica and carbonates ought to be simply accessible by the 2020 rover on the Martian surface. The rover can have a built-in chemical lab to check samples and an instrument capable of detecting complicated organic compounds. The rover will be ready to take close-up pictures of the deposits to check however they’re positioned compared to different rocks. It also has sensors similar to CRISM, which can allow a comparative analysis with MRO data. Failing all this, the rover will extract samples and leave them as a cache for future missions to retrieve and convey back to Earth for analysis.

This is all very exciting, and that we would be remiss to not mention the news from earlier on about the detection of intriguing oxygen fluctuations on Mars. The Red Planet might or might not have once hosted life, however we’re actually doing our greatest to seek out out. the nice news is that we won’t ought to wait long for the new rover to start out sniffing around Jezero crater—February 2021 can surely arrive in the blink of an eye.

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