NASA Shaves List Of Sites To Retrieve Martian Rocks To Three

Posted: Feb 13 2017, 5:03am CST | by , in Latest Science News


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NASA shaves list of sites to retrieve martian rocks to Three

NASA sites still in contention include Columbia Hills, Jezero Crater, and Northeast Syrtis

NASA has been working its list of potential sites for retrieving the first Martian rocks to send back to Earth from the eight locations that were on the list down to the final number. The latest cut took the list down to three potential sites. These sites are potential landing areas for the next rover heading to the Red Planet in 2020.

NASA cut the list down to three during a workshop held in Monrovia, California. The final decision on a landing site for the rover will be due a year or two before the rover is due to launch. The landing site is very important because the rocks and soil samples that NASA collects will help drive the scientific questions and research on Mars for decades to come.

The three landing sites still in contention include Jezero crater, once home to a Martian lake. Scientists believe that this location could have preserved remains of microbial life, assuming such life ever existed on Mars.

"You've got a large river bringing water and sediment into a very large lake, comparable to Lake Tahoe," says Timothy Goudge, a planetary scientist at the University of Texas at Austin. Another possible location for the landing is Northeast Syrtis where hot water once circulated to the surface of the planet. The third potential location is Columbia Hills, an area that the NASA Spirit rover explored previously.

That last potential landing location didn't score well in a community vote and this site had already been recommended against revisiting by scientists. Some scientists said that revisiting the location was unlikely to resolve confusion over whether the silica rocks in the area, resembling hydrothermal deposits on Earth, could be linked to life.

NASA is really wanting to send the rover to a site where water once flowed, such a location would increase the chances of finding a landing site where life was at some time in Mars' ancient past. The site also has to be easy for the rover to travel on because it needs to collect at least 20 rock samples in roughly two years.

As of now NASA has yet to design or budget money for actually getting any samples that the rover collects back to Earth. The 2020 Rover will drill and collect samples, then lay them on the ground for a future mission to retrieve.

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