NASA will dig for signs of alien life in Mars' Jezero Crater - the landing site for its 2020 rover

nasa mars 2020 rover landing site jezero craterNASA will attempt to land its Mars 2020 nuclear-powered rover in Jezero Crater, where the space agency will collect its first Martian soil samples for a future rocket launch to Earth.NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL

  • NASA has picked a landing site for its upcoming Mars 2020 rover.
  • The space agency will try to land its nuclear-powered robot in Jezero Crater, a giant impact near the Martian equator.
  • Jezero Crater was a water-rich area billions of years ago on Mars, and it might still hide signs of alien life such as microbes.
  • NASA hopes to dig up and store Martian soil samples - for the first time in human history - for a future launch back to Earth.

NASA has announced where it plans to land the Mars 2020 rover and dig for signs of alien life in the red planet's soil.

The car-size robot is expected to land inside the 28-mile-diameter Jezero Crater, an ancient impact site located just north of the Martian equator. It was one of more than 60 sites that NASA eyed during years of consideration.

NASA's Mars 2020 rover is made from a backup of the Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in August 2012 and has roamed the red planet on nuclear power ever since. But the new six-wheeled robot will come with vital upgrades to its wheels and - most importantly - be equipped to "collect rock and soil samples and store them in a cache on the planet's surface," the agency said in a press release.

This canister of soil and rocks, if successfully stashed, will be the critical first leg of an unprecedented, multi-mission effort to collect and launch the first sample of Mars back to Earth, where scientists would be able to analyze it in detail.

"The landing site in Jezero Crater offers geologically rich terrain, with landforms reaching as far back as 3.6 billion years old, that could potentially answer important questions in planetary evolution and astrobiology," Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator, said in the release. "Getting samples from this unique area will revolutionize how we think about Mars and its ability to harbor life."

mars 2020 rover arm sample drill illustration nasa jpl caltech PIA22111An illustration of NASA's Mars 2020 rover exploring the Martian surface.NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA expects to launch the Mars 2020 rover in July or August of 2020, which means the robot would arrive on Mars in April or May of 2021.

Like Curiosity, NASA plans to use a death-defying "sky crane" system to plunk the 2,315-lb robot on the Martian surface.

Jezero was named in 2007 after a town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it means "lake" in several Slavic languages.
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