Get a Birds-Eye View of NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover Landing Zone

Get a Birds-Eye View of NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover Landing Zone

NASA’s next Mars rover doesn’t have a name yet, but it does have a landing zone. You can take a closer look at the Mars 2020 rover’s home-to-be in a new video assembled from the latest NASA orbital imagery. Get ready to take a trip across Jezero Crater, an ancient lakebed on the red planet.

It would be nice if NASA could load each rover with a dozen instrument suites to analyze every aspect of a planet, but the agency has to prioritize its payloads carefully. Curiosity, which landed in Gale Crater back in 2012, carries instruments aimed mainly at analyzing Mars’ climate and geology. That hasn’t stopped it from learning some things about the potential for ancient life on Mars, but the 2020 rover will be better suited for that kind of science.

In the video below, you can get a nice little tour of Jezero Crater in the in the Syrtis Major quadrangle of Mars. It’s about 30 miles (49 kilometers) in diameter. It’s not this location’s history as an impact crater that makes it particularly appealing — NASA wants to land there because it became a lake after that. The body of water in Jezero Crater was about the size of Lake Tahoe on Earth, so there’s potential evidence of life in the now-dead lakebed.

The video shows Mars 2020’s approximate landing zone near the middle of the crater. NASA plans to travel up the slope to the rim of Jezero, scanning the soil along the way. The rover’s “SuperCam” will pack two lasers and four spectrometers that can detect biological molecules on the surface and samples extracted by the robot’s core drill.

The 2020 rover will spend its first two years exploring the crater and the delta region where sediment was deposited in the lake by an ancient river. If life existed in Jezero Crater, there’s a good chance some sign of it will remain in the rocks. After that, Mars 2020 will get to the crater rim (and lake shoreline) where ejected material from the original impact landed. That material would have been hot after the impact, which could have caused short-lived hot springs that left mineral deposits with signs of ancient life.

NASA currently plans to launch the Mars rover on July 17, 2020. It should get to Mars in February of the following year. NASA should also announce the name of the rover sometime next year, so we can finally stop calling it “Mars 2020.”

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