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.

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