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On ancient Mars, water carved channels and transported sediments to form fans and deltas within lake basins. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL

NASA has decided to send its next Mars rover to Jezero Crater to search for life, after after considering more than 60 other possible locations, the agency announced Monday.

The big picture: The next mission to the Red Planet will launch in July 2020. The rover will look for signs of past habitable conditions and will collect and store rock and soil samples. Future Mars exploration missions could retrieve those samples for analysis. “Getting samples from this unique area will revolutionize how we think about Mars and its ability to harbor life,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement.

Where is it: Jezero Crater, which is believed to have once been a lake-delta system, is on the western edge of the Isidis Planitia basin to the north of the Martian equator, according to a NASA press release. Mission scientists hope to find ancient organic molecules and other science of microbial life preserved in the different kinds of rock and sediments there.

  • The challenge: The diversity of the terrain in this spot on Mars brings with it a challenge for the entry, descent and landing (EDL) engineers to ensure that the rover does not get trapped in sand or among the boulders and rocks.
“But what was once out of reach is now conceivable, thanks to the 2020 engineering team and advances in Mars entry, descent and landing technologies.”
— Ken Farley, project scientist for Mars 2020 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • A final report with thorough analysis of the landing spot will be presented at NASA Headquarters in the fall of 2019.

Go deeper

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America is anxious, angry and heavily armed

Data: FBI; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Firearms background checks in the U.S. hit a record high in 2020.

The big picture: This past year took our collective arsenal to new heights, with millions of Americans buying guns for the first time. That trend coincides with a moment of peak political and social tension.

Mike Allen, author of AM
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

America on borrowed time

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Economic recovery will not be linear as the world continues to grapple with the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Why it matters: Despite being propped up by an extraordinary amount of fiscal stimulus and support from central banks, the state of the global economy remains fragile.

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.