The location where NASA plans to land its rover on Mars could hold signs of ancient microbial life.

Scientists are set to investigate the Jezero crater in the Mars 2020 mission, which was home to a lake 3.5 billion years ago and is littered with carbonates and hydrated silica.

Carbonates located in the crater’s inner rim have been found to survive in fossils on Earth for billions of years and hydrated silica was discovered in the delta that is know for its ability to preserve biosignatures. 

The Mars 2020 mission will solely focused on astrobiology, or ‘the study of life throughout the universe’, NASA shared in a statement.

The American space agency is deploying a new suite of scientific instruments on the 2020 rover that will build on Curiosity’s discoveries, which has found clues that life once thrived on the Red Planet.

The future mission is tasked with searching for actual signs of past microbial life and will gather rock core samples in metal tubes that will make their way back to Earth to be studied further.

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The stunning images of the multi-colored Jezero crater's ancient lake where the hydrated silica was found came from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which regularly takes images of potential landing sites for future missions. Pictured is the remains of the 3.5 billion-year-old lake that flowed through the crater

The stunning images of the multi-colored Jezero crater’s ancient lake where the hydrated silica was found came from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which regularly takes images of potential landing sites for future missions. Pictured is the remains of the 3.5 billion-year-old lake that flowed through the crater

The stunning images of the multi-colored Jezero crater’s ancient lake where the hydrated silica was found came from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which regularly takes images of potential landing sites for future missions.

Jesse Tarnas, a Ph.D. student at Brown University and the study’s lead author, said, ‘Using a technique we developed that helps us find rare, hard-to-detect mineral phases in data taken from orbiting spacecraft, we found two outcrops of hydrated silica within Jezero crater.’

‘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.’ 

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NASA revealed it was sending its Mars 2020 rover to Jezero last year, which is the site of what appears to be an ancient lake and the two discoveries have given these experts hope that they could uncover sure signs of life.

The location where NASA plans to land its rover on Mars is home to elements that could hold signs of ancient microbial life. Scientists are set to investigate the Jezero crater in the Mars 2020 mission, which was once a lake 3.5 billion years ago and is littered with hydrated silica and carbonates

The location where NASA plans to land its rover on Mars is home to elements that could hold signs of ancient microbial life. Scientists are set to investigate the Jezero crater in the Mars 2020 mission, which was once a lake 3.5 billion years ago and is littered with hydrated silica and carbonates

The orbiter's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars instrument, or CRISM, helped produce colorful mineral maps of the 'bathtub ring', which is where scientists spotted carbonates

The orbiter’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars instrument, or CRISM, helped produce colorful mineral maps of the ‘bathtub ring’, which is where scientists spotted carbonates

The paper's lead author, Briony Horgan of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, said, 'CRISM spotted carbonates here years ago, but we only recently noticed how concentrated they are right where a lakeshore would be.' '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'

The paper’s lead author, Briony Horgan of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, said, ‘CRISM spotted carbonates here years ago, but we only recently noticed how concentrated they are right where a lakeshore would be.’ ‘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’

The researchers have suggested that the delta could have an abundance of material from a vast watershed

Deltas on Earth are known to be good at preserving signs of life and adding hydrated silica to the mix increases that preservation potential, the researchers explained.

While investigating the images NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the team spotted one of the silica deposits on the edge of the delta at low elevation.

It’s possible that the minerals formed in place and represent the bottom layer of the delta deposit, which is a great scenario for preserving signs of life. 

The rover will be able to perform fine-scale chemical analysis of the deposits and provide a close-up view of how the deposits are situated in relation to surrounding rock units.

An animated flyover of the Martian surface explains why Mars' Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide ancient lake-delta system, is the best place for the Mars 2020 rover to find and collect promising samples for a possible future return to Earth

An animated flyover of the Martian surface explains why Mars’ Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide ancient lake-delta system, is the best place for the Mars 2020 rover to find and collect promising samples for a possible future return to Earth

It will also have a sensor similar to CRISM to link orbital and lander data.

That will go a long way to determining how the deposits formed.

What’s more, one instrument aboard the rover is able to look for complex organic material. If the silica deposits have high concentrations of organics, it would be an especially intriguing find, the researchers noted.

‘If these deposits present themselves in the form of rocks that are big and competent enough to drill into, they could be put into the cache,’ Mustard said.

‘This work suggests that they’d be a great sample to have.’

Not only will the rover search for signs of ancient life, the team is going to use this mission to study carbonates to learn how Mars transitioned from having liquid water and a thicker atmosphere to being the freezing desert it is today.

The landing site of Jezero Crater is different because of its abundant carbonate rocks and what they can hopefully reveal about early habitability on Mars

The landing site of Jezero Crater is different because of its abundant carbonate rocks and what they can hopefully reveal about early habitability on Mars

The orbiter’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars instrument, or CRISM, helped produce colorful mineral maps of the ‘bathtub ring’, which is where scientists spotted carbonates. 

Carbonate minerals formed from interactions between carbon dioxide and water, recording subtle changes in these interactions over time.

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In that sense, they act as time capsules that scientists can study to learn when – and how – the Red Planet began drying out.

The paper’s lead author, Briony Horgan of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, said, ‘CRISM spotted carbonates here years ago, but we only recently noticed how concentrated they are right where a lakeshore would be.’

‘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.’  

The Mars 2020 team expects to explore both the crater floor and delta during the rover’s two-year prime mission. 

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT NASA’S MARS 2020 ROVER?

Nasa’s Mars 2020 rover will search for signs of ancient life on Mars in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet.

The machine will explore an ancient river delta within the Jezero Crater, which was once filled with a 1,600-foot (500-meter) deep lake.

It is believed that the region hosted microbial life some 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago.

Nasa's Mars 2020 rover (artist's impression) will search for signs of ancient life on Mars in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet

Nasa’s Mars 2020 rover (artist’s impression) will search for signs of ancient life on Mars in a bid to help scientists better understand how life evolved on our own planet

The $2.5 billion (£1.95 billion) Mars 2020 is planned to launch in July 2020, and land in February 2021.

Mars 2020 is designed to land inside the crater and collect samples that will eventually be returned to Earth for further analysis.

Nasa says a second mission will need to fly to the planet and return the samples, perhaps by the later 2020s.

This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the red planet via NASA's 'sky-crane' system

This concept art shows the Mars 2020 rover landing on the red planet via NASA’s ‘sky-crane’ system



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