NASA selects an ancient lakebed (Jezero Crater) for 2020 rover touchdown. The rover will hunt for signs of past life on the red planet.

Though bone-dry now, scientists think the Jezero Crater might have spent a large amount of time filled with liquid water. They have found clear evidence that this area was underwater for a sustained period of time. Long enough time for a delta to form, which happened the same way on Mars as it would on Earth.

A 1,600-foot (500-meter) deep lake filled the ancient crater that opened to a network of rivers some 3.5 to 3.9 billion years ago.

“The delta is a good place for evidence of life to be deposited and then preserved for the billions of years that have elapsed since this lake was present,” Ken Farley, Mars 2020 project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told reporters on a conference call.

Jezero Crater presents several promising targets of at least five different kinds of rock. They all have a decent chance of preserving signs of past life, NASA said. So, analyzing that material could tell us more about whether or not life ever existed on Mars.

Scientists have debated where to land the rover for the past four years. So, before choosing the Jezero Crater, they had to narrow down their decision from more than 60 possible sites.

2020 Rover

NASA plans to launch the $2.5 billion rover from Cape Canaveral in July 2020. It should arrive on the Martian surface in February 2021

The rover will land inside the crater, collect rock and soil samples and store them on the planet’s surface. Future round-trip missions would then retrieve those samples and bring them back to Earth. So this landing site sets the stage for the next decade of Mars exploration.

Mars 2020 will use the same sky crane landing that successfully delivered NASA’s unmanned Curiosity rover on the Gale Crater on Mars back in 2012.

Knowing more about the ability for life to exist on Mars in the distant past could inform us about how life evolved on Earth.

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Thumbnail image: This NASA file image released on November 19, 2018, shows the Jezero Crater delta on Mars. Credits: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/MSSS/Brown University.