NASA’s Mars 2020 mission is a highly anticipated space project. Upon its arrival on the red planet, the rover would start drilling for samples. NASA has collected data from various experiments, discoveries, and tests to take into consideration when selecting the final landing site for the mission. During a workshop in Monrovia, California, scientists narrowed down the list of potential landing sites from eight to three.

Mars boron
Image source: Kevin M. Gill / Flickr

Mars 2020 will be launched in July 2020

It’s well known that the red planet once harbored liquid water. There has also been indirect evidence of life as we know it on Mars. The Mars 2020 mission aims to find the signs of life. The rover will collect samples of the most promising soils and rocks that will be studied after bringing the samples to Earth. The Mars 2020 mission will be launched in July 2020 aboard the Atlas V 541 rocket.

The biggest question before NASA scientists is where to land the rocket. After going through different sets of data including details sent by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), scientists voted for easily accessible landing sites that could have supported life billions of years ago. The choices were based on a variety of factors such as technological constraints, mission objectives, ancient environmental conditions, and the ability of the soil and rocks to preserve minerals.

Though they didn’t determine the final landing site, the researchers narrowed the list to just three. Here they are:

Jezero Crater

It was the most popular choice among scientists who attended the workshop. Jezero Crater is believed to be an ancient lake similar to Lake Tahoe. It received water and sediments from a large river. So, it was the ideal site to look for signs of life on the red planet.

Northeast Syrtis

It was the second highest voted site. Northeast Syrtis was once warmed by volcanic activity. It had hot water circulating under its crust. Scientists believe ancient microbial life might have flourished at the confluence of minerals and liquid water.

Columbia Hills

Located in the Gusev Crater, Columbia Hills is the most controversial site. It’s where the now-defunct NASA rover Spirit found evidence of silica rocks that resemble hydrothermal mineral deposits on Earth. In September last year, a teenager named Alex Longo from Raleigh, North Carolina had suggested NASA that they should land Mars 2020 at Gusev Crater where the Spirit rover was landed in 2004. Finally, NASA scientists have added it to the top three sites.

The Mars 2020 rover is supposed to spend two years collecting samples from the final landing site. The samples will be brought back to Earth during a follow-up mission because the rover won’t come back to Earth. The Mars 2020 mission is part of the US space agency’s Mars Exploration Program.