Scientists manning the Mars 2020 rover have identified an ideal spot for studying indications of ancient life. The rover is set to land on February 18, 2021, at Jezero Crater. The findings, released in the journal Icarus, depict deposits of carbonates along Jezero’s rim.
The site is said to have had a lake about 3.5 billion years ago. Carbonates have helped to form hardy, fossil-like structures that can survive for billions of years, such as seashells and stromatolites and coral. Stromatolites are rocks formed from microbial life along seashores billions of years ago. Stromatolite-like structures have been observed on Mars, and their existence in the Jezero Crater makes the site desirable for study. Carbonate minerals are formed as a reaction of carbon dioxide and water, an observation that could further hint how the planet transformed from its seas and lakes to its current cold desert. Their formation is a series of subtle reactions over a long time, enabling scientists to identify when Mars dried up its water.
The Mars 2020 mission aims to expand the discoveries of NASA’s Curiosity, which is already studying the Martian surface. Curiosity had previously found signs of microbial life on Mars formed billions of years ago, results which the Mars 2020 rover aims to build on with a new set of equipment to search for signs of actual life on Mars. The rover will also take samples of rocks on the Red Planet for further experimentation on earth. The samples will be stored in metal tubes and will be flown to Earth on future missions.
The Jezero Crater measured 45 kilometers wide and was once a river delta of an ancient river, as seen in photographs taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) on the orbiter has been producing colorful images of the area, showing the ring of carbonates on the crater. The pictures were featured in the paper authored by Briony Horgan from Purdue University in Indiana. According to Brian, the CRISM had spotted the carbonates many years back and that they expect to encounter more such carbonate deposits throughout the mission.
The 2020 rover, within its two-year tenure, is expected to search both the delta and the floor of the crater, possibly reaching the rim and the carbonates within, according to Horgan. Ken Williford, Deputy Project Scientist at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that the carbonates are an excellent conservative of records of ancient life, making the site a vital point of research.
This post was originally published on Food and Beverage Herald