As we inch closer to the launch date of the ExoMars 2020 rover, experts from the European Space Agency (ESA) are now considering just where we should try to land it to get the best search results.
Image Credit: ESA
A region on the red planet called Mawrth Vallis isn’t out of the cards, as it may be rich in clues that could answer the question of whether or not any life forms ever did (or still do) exist on Mars.
Because of previous exposure to water, it’s believed that the terrain here is like clay. It may be a suitable region of study because of the characteristics of clay and how it traps minerals and tells a story about the planet’s checkered past.
Fortunately, the ExoMars 2020 rover will come equipped with a number of tools to perform the observations, including a drill that can penetrate up to 6.5 feet below the surface to pull up any special details that might be hidden from plain sight.
Those involved with choosing the initial destination for the ExoMars 2020 rover think that Mawrth Vallis will provide a glimpse into the window of what the planet was like 4 billion years ago, as clay is very good at retaining things for long periods of time, as the Earth has taught us.
In addition to Mawrth Vallis, another location on Mars is being considered for the landing site called Oxia Planum, which is also a clay-rich region.
Deciding on where to send the rover initially will ultimately depend on the terrain of the area. We can’t send the ExoMars 2020 rover into a rough terrain with lots of slopes and pitfalls, because this could harm it before it has a chance to conduct any useful science. Instead, we need to find a location with plenty of open, flat land.
While both regions are being considered, we won’t know for sure which is a better search site until further detailed analysis. A decision between which of the two landing sites we’ll pick is expected to be announced at least one year before the expected launch in 2020, so there’s still some time to mull things over.
In any case, the ExoMars 2020 rover will be far more advanced than other rovers put on Mars before it, and will offer a lot of new potential into the ongoing search for traces of life in our Solar System besides Earth. A recently-released rendering of the rover shows just how different it will look from current rovers searching the red planet at this point in time: