This article has been just updated: December 28th, 2019
NASA’s Life-Hunting Mars 2020 Rover Mission Will Search for Alien Microfossils
Mars 2020 rover mission is on track for a June 2018 launch from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The flight of the unmanned Exploration Mission -1 (EM-1), also known as “Marias” or “Antares,” is intended to test the ability of the rocket and capsule to safely and effectively land the rover on Mars in August 2020.
Mars 2020 rover name in Arabic). The rover, named after a Martian city, will be a joint mission between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The rover’s name, the first of its kind, also will be an acronym.
Mars 2020 is a multi-mission science mission designed to seek out life beyond Earth, with a primary focus on the search for the first signs of past or present life in the form of microbial life and organic molecules.
Onboard NASA’s spacecraft are the first two payloads chosen by NASA’s Discovery Program, which has sought and selected missions for missions into deep space since 1972. The Discovery Program is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Mars 2020 will explore, sample, and utilize the planet’s surface, atmosphere, and subsurface to learn about the evolution of life. How humans can use those findings for their own benefit, and how we can protect the environment that humans depend upon.
The rover mission will demonstrate robotic technologies that will be necessary to explore, sample, and utilize the Martian surface, atmosphere, and subsurface.
Lighter colors represent higher elevation in this image of Jezero Crater on Mars, the landing site for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. The oval indicates the landing ellipse, where the rover will be touching down on Mars.
The life-hunting grounds could be pretty rich for NASA’s next Mars rover.
Jezero Crater, the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) hole in the ground that the Mars 2020 rover will begin exploring in February 2021, has ample deposits of minerals that are good at preserving microfossils here on Earth, two new studies have found.
One of those minerals is hydrated silica. After poring over data gathered by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. A team of researchers identified two Jezero outcrops that are rich in the stuff, Jesse Tarnas and colleagues reported this month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
“We know from Earth that this mineral phase is exceptional at preserving microfossils and other biosignatures, so that makes these outcrops exciting targets for the rover to explore,” Tarnas, a Ph.D. student in planetary science at Brown University, said in a statement.
Just like the 96-mile-wide (154 km) Gale Crater. Which NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has been exploring since August 2012, Jezero apparently hosted a lake in the ancient past. Orbital imagery has also revealed the remnants of a large delta in Jezero. Which marks where a river drained into the lake.
Deltas are good areas to search for signs of life because these regions concentrate deposits from all over a river system. Indeed, the presence of a delta is one of the reasons NASA chose Jezero as the Mars 2020 landing site.
One of the newfound hydrated silica outcrops lies at the edge of the Jezero delta at low elevation, Tarnas and his team found. If the minerals formed where they now lie — which is no guarantee, since the material could have been washed in from afar — they may represent the delta’s lowest layer.
“The material that forms the bottom layer of a delta is sometimes the most productive in terms of preserving biosignatures,” co-author Jack Mustard, a professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences at Brown (and a professor of environmental studies there as well), said in the same statement. “So, if you can find that bottom set layer and that layer has a lot of silica in it, that’s a double bonus.”
In the other new study, which was published online Monday (Nov. 11) in the journal Icarus, a different team of researchers used CRISM data to identify a “bathtub ring” of carbonate minerals in Jezero. Here on Earth, organisms use carbonates — minerals that contain the carbonate ion, CO3 — to build sturdy structures that can survive for billions of years in fossil form. Seashells, for example, are made of calcium carbonate.
“CRISM spotted carbonates here years ago, but we only recently noticed how concentrated they are right where a lakeshore would be,” study lead author Briony Horgan, an assistant professor of planetary science at Purdue University in Indiana, said in a different statement.
“We’re going to encounter carbonate deposits in many locations throughout the mission, but the bathtub ring will be one of the most exciting places to visit,” Horgan added.
Again, the carbonates’ history is unclear; it’s unknown when they formed. But the Mars 2020 team is excited by the prospect that the carbonates were deposited when water sloshed in Jezero Crater.
“Carbonate chemistry on an ancient lakeshore is a fantastic recipe for preserving records of ancient life and climate,” Mars 2020 deputy project scientist Ken Williford, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in the statement. (JPL leads the Mars 2020 mission.) “We’re eager to get to the surface and discover how these carbonates formed.”
Carbonates themselves aren’t biosignatures; there are many different types, and most of them have nothing to do with life. But carbonate minerals form via the interaction of carbon dioxide and liquid water, so studying their presence and abundance could help reveal insights about Mars’ long-ago transition from a relatively warm and wet world to the cold desert planet that it is today, researchers said.
Mars 2020, which will soon get a new moniker via a student naming competition, is scheduled to launch in July 2020 and arrive on Jezero’s floor on Feb. 18, 2021. Another life-hunting Mars rover, the European-Russian robot Rosalind Franklin, will hit the red dirt in another, yet-to-be-announced location at around the same time.
Mars 2020 Rover Mission Facts
The Mars 2020 rover, due to land on Mars in 2020, will bring scientific success to our mission. But will it bring an end to the question of whether we’ve found all there is to find on the Red Planet?
The Mars 2020 rover is not the first rover to land on the Red Planet. But it will be the first one to study the surface.
It will be able to collect samples of rock and soil, analyze them and provide new information about Mars’ past and future.
Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012 and continues to explore the surface.
The Mars 2020 rover will take the place of Curiosity.
Curiosity was designed to study rocks and soil for signs of past life on Mars. But in August 2014 it stopped working, as it ran out of fuel.
Curiosity was unable to send back data because it had not been designed to survive for more than a few years.
They’re an independent entity, they don’t have any affiliation with NASA or anything like that. Their motto is “All about space”.
“We can’t build the Mars spacecraft in a single year”, said Thomas Spöttler, chief engineer at Mars 2020. “But we can build something that will be useful to the next 50, 100 years.”
The spacecraft will be built in the same fashion as the Mars Viking lander, which launched in 1976. There will be six landers on Mars 2020, each equipped with different instruments. Some will measure the surface composition and gravity, some will take measurements of air composition, and others will test the ability of the Mars 2020 spacecraft to withstand the harsh environment.
Mars 2020 rover will be sent to ‘one of the most interesting places in our solar system’, says ESA chief
“Mars 2020 will be the most technologically advanced, scientifically innovative and affordable mission ever undertaken by Europe,” says ESA’s chief of missions Jérôme Bedin.
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) European Mars 2020 program is part of the ESA’s strategy for its Human Spaceflight program.
The Mars 2020 rover will collect soil samples, analyze them and send the information back to Earth.
The mission is expected to be ready for launch by 2025, but will not be able to reach the red planet until 2033.
The first unmanned Mars mission will launch in 2021, followed by the first crewed Mars mission in 2023.
Image copyright ESA/NASA Image caption ESA’s ExoMars rover is currently on an expedition to the surface of Mars.