Planetary Scientists Suggest Three Landing Sites for Mars 2020

One of the oldest regions of the Red Planet discovered, an ancient Martian lake, or the site of an ancient hot spring first explored by NASA’s Spirit rover

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover’s expected to land at one of the three sites noted on this image of the Red Planet. Credits: NASA

Space news (The Journey to Mars: Mars 2020; possible landing sites) – Northeast Syrtis: Jerero crater; or Columbia Hills, on the Red Planet –

Planetary scientists and other scientists attending the third landing site workshop hosted by NASA in order to determine the best place for its Mars 2020 rover to land recommend three places. NASA’s been using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to search for suitable sites since about 2006 and to help in the identification, study, and verification of possible future landing sites for coming manned missions during most recent history. Data and observations provided by the MRO also helped participants narrow down the choices to three during the workshop.

Dr. Matt Golombek, just one of the rocket geniuses working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Credits: NASA/JPL

“From the point of view of evaluating potential landing sites, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is the perfect spacecraft for getting all the information needed,” said the workshop’s co-chair, Matt Golombek of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “You just can’t overstate the importance of MRO for landing-site selection.”

Leslie Tamppari, another genius working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Credits: NASA/JPL

“Missions on the surface of Mars give you the close-up view, but what you see depends on where you land. MRO searches the globe for the best sites,” said MRO Deputy Project Scientist Leslie Tamppari of JPL.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion is famous for employing the experience, skills, and knowledge of geniuses, but this is getting to be ridiculous. Credits: NASA/JPL

“Whether it is looking at the surface, the subsurface or the atmosphere of the planet, MRO has viewed Mars from orbit with unprecedented spatial resolution, and that produces huge volumes of data,” said MRO Project Scientist Rich Zurek of JPL.“These data are a treasure trove for the whole Mars scientific community to study as we seek to answer a broad range of questions about the evolving habitability, geology, and climate of Mars.”

The Journey to the Red Planet

The human journey to the beginning of space and time will be making a stop on Mars sometime in the 2030s if everything goes as planned with NASA’s Journey to Mars. Mars 2020 is expected to launch aboard the Atlas V 541 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida around July 2020. After a journey of millions of miles across the solar system to the Red Planet, the Mars 2020 rover will land at one of three possible sites.

Northeast Syrtis

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover could be landing here to look for evidence one-celled life flourished in water accumulated on the surface of the Red Planet. Credits: NASA/MRO/HIRISE

Images of the first possible landing site in the Northeast part of Syrtis Major show Early Noachian bedrock planetary scientists would like to have a closer look at for signs of possible life. An excellent place for study and exploration of the past of the Red Planet, scientists are currently studying whether it’s safe for Mars 2020 to land. There could be too many boulders or even steep slopes unidentified in the initial analysis of images of this region making landing problematic at best. There’s also always the possibility of something we haven’t thought of. If the site is safe, it will be considered for the final choice, and possibly even for the rovers planned by Europe and NASA sometime around 2018.

This part of the Red Planet was once warmed by volcanoes, so planetary scientists want to look for ancient hot springs and even surface ice melt where liquid water could have flowed. Liquid water’s one of the catalysts-of-life planetary scientists look for in the search for extraterrestrial life. The layered terrain of Northeast Syrtis could hold a record of ancient simple life forms that existed on Mars during its early history. At the very least it should tell us more about interactions between water and minerals over successive parts of the Red Planet when it was young. This site we should definitely take a look at.

Jezero Crater

NASA scientists plan on using instruments on the Mars 2020 rover to look into the possibility simple, one-celled life could have evolved and flourished in the water of a lake they think existed on the surface of the Red Planet in this region. Credits: NASA/MRO/HIRISE

Rewind time 3.5 billion years in Jezero crater, to when river channels spilled over the crater wall and formed a lake. Planetary scientists see evidence water from this lake carried clay minerals from the lake bed after this body of water dried up. Scientists want to explore the crater for signs microbial life once lived here during events such as this when Jezero crater was a little wetter. For the remains of ancient life in the lakebed sediments.

Columbia Hills, Mars

Scientists think simple, one-celled life could have developed and flourished in the waters of a shallow lake they believe formed here billions of years ago. Credits: NASA/MRO/HIRISE

After additional study planetary scientists and geochemists agree mineral springs once bubbled up from the rocks of Columbia Hills in Gusev crater on the Red Planet. Originally, the Spirit rover found no clear signs water flowed over or existed in the rocks of this region of Mars, but the discovery hot springs once existed here has scientists thinking a shallow lake may have once formed for a time. Warm, inviting waters microbial life could have evolved in, exobiologists are keen to examine soils and lakebed sediments of Gusev crater for their remains.

The Final Landing Site of the Mars 2020 rover


NASA’s shortlisted the possible landing sites to the three regions seen in the slideshow above. Credits: NASA/MRO/HIRISE


Possible landing sites of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover may change as the mission goes forward, the science mission and even engineering considerations of achieving their goals could change as they learn more. Ultimately, NASA will decide on a landing site with geology indicating a wetter past that also meets all criteria. Stay tuned to the human journey to the beginning of space and time during the months and years ahead to learn more. 

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NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover Approaches Kimberly Region

Astronomy News – 2014/03/25

NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover could be traversing terrain similar to large grained sandstone deposits found on Earth scientists studying images taken of the region surrounding the spacecraft believe.

The 160 degree landscape panorama below photographed by Curiosity’s Navigation Camera (Navcam) on February 19, 2014 during a stop on the missions 574th day shows an eroded sandstone outcrop called Junda and Mount Sharp on the horizon. The panoramic image below is centered on “the Kimberley”, a region 282 feet south from the rovers location, NASA scientists are heading Curiosity toward.

The 160 degree panorama here was taken by the Curiosity Mars Rover.
The 160 degree panorama here was taken by the Curiosity Mars Rover.

The 360-degree panorama below is also centered on the Kimberley region to the south. The outcrop of eroded sandstone in the foreground is the same one seen in the 160 degree panorama above.

The 360 degree panorama here is south of the Kimberley
The 360 degree panorama here is south of the Kimberley

The Kimberley region and Mount Sharp were chosen as prime targets of interest for NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover due to study of images taken from orbit of the region last year. Planetary scientists want to take a look at the Kimberley region because four types of sandstone with different textures intersect there.

“The orbital images didn’t tell us what those rocks are, but now that Curiosity is getting closer, we’re seeing a preview,” said Curiosity Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “

The contrasting heights of sandstone here indicates varying erosion resistance
The contrasting heights of sandstone here indicates varying erosion resistance

The contrasting textures and durabilities of sandstones in this area are fascinating. While superficially similar, the rocks likely formed and evolved quite differently from each other.”

The resistance to erosion of different rock types in a location 400 meters north-northwest of the Kimberley results in the different elevations and surfaces shades seen here. Higher elevations indicates more erosion resistant rock, while the flat, tanned surface is a sandstone with low resistance to erosion. This means the medium height rocks to the right center are less resistant to erosion than the taller rocks at the top of the image.

In earth geology sand is defined as fragmentary sediment smaller than 2 mm and 0.062 mm in diameter. Sandstone is the second most abundant sedimentary rock (20-25%) on Earth. The environment of deposition of surface rocks is generally related to mineral composition. A study of erosion of surface rocks and their mineral composition could provide planetary scientists with clues concerning the environment sandstone was formed in millions of years ago.

In geology the material between grains of sand in sandstone is called cement, whatever it’s composition. On earth the particular characteristics of cement varies quite a bit, depending on the environmental and geophysical history of the sandstone formation studied. Sandstones with a high percentage of clay-minerals are generally soft and will readily crumble when hit with a hammer. Sandstone with quartz cement is usually hard and rings when struck with a hammer.

Planetary scientists are hoping to have time in the planned schedule of Curiosity to study the sandstone in the Kimberly region. The results would be very interesting and could tell us a lot about the geological history of the Red Planet.

For the most part, the surface terrain NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover has travelled over thus far was finer grained mud stone, rather than the coarser-grained sandstone outcroppings they expect to discover once they reach the Kimberley region of Mars. Sandstone has been seen in a number of different forms on planet Earth and some earth scientists were probably expecting forms to exist on other planets. Time permitting, planetary scientists are hoping to grab a sample of the terrain in the Kimberley region, they can study in depth using laboratory instruments inside Curiosity.

As with earth geology, an understanding of the process that created the different sandstone formations and outcrops in the Kimberly region, could help explain terrain found in Mars Gale Crater and the reason it has a large layered mountain, Mount Sharp, near its center.

“A major issue for us now is to understand why some rocks resist erosion more than other rocks, especially when they are so close to each other and are both likely to be sandstones,” said Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego.

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NASA’s Curiosity Reaches Milestone

NASA's Curiosity spacecraft has showed us things about Mars we only guessed at
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is leading the human exploration of Mars

100,000 zaps and counting

Astronomy News (December 05, 2013) –

NASA astronomers believe Curiosity has found an ancient lake that once existed on Mars
The blue area represents the extent of ancient lake inside Gale Crater, according to NASA astronomers

Astronomy News – The human journey to the beginning of space and time reached another milestone today as NASA’s Curiosity spacecraft fired its infrared laser for the 100,000th time. Curiosity has been conducting an experiment to determine the basic chemical elements contained within martian rocks and soils using the Chemistry and Camera Instrument (ChemCam). ChemCam has fired more than 102,000 times as of December 01, 2013, at 420 martian rocks and soils, and taken over 1,600 HD pictures using its onboard camera.

It appears the surface of Mars inside Gale Crater has been exposed to wind blown sand and other forces
Curiosity’s Mastcam instrument took this image of the Glenelg area of Gale Crater showing sedimentary deposits which data indicates have only been exposed for 80 million years

At the moment, an international team of astronomers and scientists are going over the data provided by Curiosity and ChemCam in order to list the chemical elements contained within the 420 samples they fired the laser at. This will give them a good idea of the chemical elements on the surface of Mars’ Gale Crater and the geophysical processes that formed them. ChemCam fires an infrared laser at rocks and soil targets to create plasma gas, which it analysis using a scientific technique called laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy.

NASA scientists recently dated a Martian rock at between 3.86 and 4.56 billion years old
A rock in the Sheepbed Mudstone deposit of Gale Crater was the first Martian rock scientists measured the age of

Curiosity is the first NASA mission to use this scientific technique to analysis rocks and soils on a different planet, but certainly not the last. You can learn more about ChemCam at

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