NASA picks Three Potential Drilling Sites for Mars 2020 Mission

NASA picks 3 potential drilling sites for Mars 2020 mission

NASA scientists have recommended three locations on Mars for drilling to collect samples from the Red Planet during the agency’s Mars 2020 mission. This will be first even NASA mission to bring back samples from Mars on Earth. After three-day workshop in Monrovia, California, NASA team has finalized three locations for drilling on February 10. Till date, researchers have only analyzed Mars rocks that are meteorites and for the first time, we will have rocks brought from Mars for analysis.

The three potential landing sites are: Northeast Syrtis, a very ancient part of Martian surface; Jezero crater, which was once home to an ancient Martian lake; and Columbia Hills, which housed an ancient hot spring. NASA has not yet planned its mission for bringing back rock samples from Mars. The Mars rover mission in 2020 will collect samples and keep them safe until NASA sends it mission to bring back Martian rocks.

The three sites were recommended by NASA scientists who took part in a landing site workshop for the upcoming Mars mission. The Jezero crater site, which received the most votes, was once an ancient lake as big as Lake Tahoe. It was linked to a massive river that fed it water as well as sediments.

Northeast Syrtis, which received the second biggest number of votes, once had hot water circulating under its crust. Columbia Hills were the most controversial choice as many believe that a Mars rover would not be able to shed light on whether this site could truly be linked to life.

NASA aims to launch its planned Mars 2020 spacecraft aboard an Atlas V 541 rocket from Florida-based Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 in July 2020.

The Mars 2020 probe will spend a couple of years drilling Martian surface for collecting samples from the final site that the space agency will pick. However, the rover will not return to Earth. Thus, whether or not those samples will make it back to our planet will depend on a follow-up mission.

A report published in journal Nature informed, "Unlike Jezero and Northeast Syrtis, Columbia Hills did not score highly in the community vote. And in another advisory report this week, a group of scientists on the 2020 project explicitly recommended against revisiting the site. That report argued that sending the 2020 rover to Columbia Hills was unlikely to resolve confusion over whether its silica rocks, which resemble hydrothermal deposits on Earth, could be linked to life."

"NASA wants a landing site where water once flowed, to increase the chance that the rover will discover evidence of any past life — such as organic compounds, biomarker molecules or even microfossils. But the site should also be easy to traverse, since the rover will need to begin drilling quickly to collect at least 20 rock samples in roughly two years," Abigail Allwood, an astrobiologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, informed.