Research teams have identified areas where the Mars 2020 might discover signs of ancient life when it lands on the planet in February 2021, scientists believe.
The rover will touch down in Jezero Crater, where a lake existed 3.5 billion years ago, and research teams say the rover might find signs of ancient life in 2 areas of the 28-mile wide crater.
Signature traces of carbonate minerals were found in the inner rim of one crater during one study, published Tuesday in the journal Icarus. Such minerals on Earth are linked with stromatolite fossils, seashells, and coral found around what at one time were shorelines of ancient lakes or bodies of water.
Images from the Mars orbiter’s camera were used to create mineral maps and its Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars Instrument, or CRISM, was Key to finding the carbonates.
“CRISM spotted carbonates here years ago, but we only recently noticed how concentrated they are right where a lakeshore would be,” said Briony Horgan, the lead study author from Purdue University. “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.”
Scientists say the materials could contain information about how Mars became inhospitable for life. At one time, the planet could sustain water on the surface and had a thick atmosphere, but now, it does not.
However, the carbonates might not have originated from the lake but could have been there before it formed, the study says.
A second study, in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, reported the presence of hydrated silica on the edge of a river delta once located in the crater, with CRISM also used in the discovery.
“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,” said Jesse Tarnas, study author and doctoral student at Brown University.
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