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Landing Site of Mars 2020 Rover Could Preserve Signs of Ancient Life, Says Study

The rover's Jezero crater landing site is home to deposits of hydrated silica, a mineral that just happens to be particularly good at preserving biosignatures, said the study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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Updated:November 13, 2019, 5:27 PM IST
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Landing Site of Mars 2020 Rover Could Preserve Signs of Ancient Life, Says Study
NASA Selects Jezero Crater As Landing Site For Mars 2020 Rover (Photo for representation, image: NASA)

The landing site of the Mars 2020 rover that NASA plans to launch next year could preserve signs of ancient life on the Red Planet, says a new study.

The rover's Jezero crater landing site is home to deposits of hydrated silica, a mineral that just happens to be particularly good at preserving biosignatures, said the study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

"Using a technique we developed that helps us find rare, hard-to-detect mineral phases in data taken from orbiting spacecraft, we found two outcrops of hydrated silica within Jezero crater," said the study's lead author Jesse Tarnas, a PhD student at Brown University in Rhode Island, US.

"We know from Earth that this mineral phase is exceptional at preserving microfossils and other biosignatures, so that makes these outcrops exciting targets for the rover to explore," Tarnas said.

NASA announced late last year that its Mars 2020 rover would be headed to Jezero, which appears to have been home to an ancient lake.

The star attraction at Jezero is a large delta deposit formed by ancient rivers that fed the lake.

The delta would have concentrated the wealth of material from a vast watershed. Deltas on Earth are known to be good at preserving signs of life.

Adding hydrated silica to the mix at Jezero increases that preservation potential, the researchers said.

"The material that forms the bottom layer of a delta is sometimes the most productive in terms of preserving biosignatures," said Jack Mustard, Professor at Brown and study co-author.

"So if you can find that bottomset layer, and that layer has a lot of silica in it, that's a double bonus."

For the study, researchers used data from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument that flies aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The technique applied to the CRISM data used big data analysis methods to tease out the weak spectral signature of the silica deposits.

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