NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will be launched next summer from the Kennedy Space Centre and land on the Jezero Crater– a dried-up lake in the northern hemisphere of Mars A new study published in the journal Icarus suggests that the site might be the best place to look for evidence of ancient life on the red planet.
The Jezero Crater is the site of an ancient lake that is believed to have existed around 3.5 billion years ago. Scientists have found minerals called carbonates at the edge of the crater formed like a bathtub ring around the shore of the lake.
Researchers used orbital visible/near-infrared hyperspectral images from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) to identify a distinct carbonate-bearing unit, the “Marginal Carbonates,” located along the inner margin of the crater, near the largest inlet valley and the western delta.
The carbonates are formed from the interactions between carbon dioxide and water. On Earth, the carbonates help to form the structure of fossils that last for billions of years. That is why the presence of these carbonates in the Mars crater suggests that these would be the best areas to search for fossils on the red planet.
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“Comparison to carbonate deposits from terrestrial closed basin lakes suggests that if the Marginal Carbonates are lacustrine in origin, they could preserve macro- and microscopic biosignatures in microbialite rocks like stromatolites, some of which would likely be detectable by Mars 2020,” researchers say.
The Mars 2020 rover will land in Jezero in February 2021 and conduct a detailed investigation of the mineralogical and morphological properties of geological units to better constrain the origin of carbonates in the basin and their timing relative to fluvio-lacustrine activity.
“Based on their strong carbonate signatures, topographic properties, and location in the crater, we propose that this unit may preserve authigenic lacustrine carbonates, precipitated in the near-shore environment of the Jezero paleolake,” researchers say.
Researchers also say that the Marginal Carbonates may represent just one phase of a complex fluvio-lacustrine history in Jezero crater, as the spectral diversity of the fluvio-lacustrine deposits in the crater is consistent with a long-lived lake system cataloging the deposition and erosion of regional geologic units.
“Jezero crater may contain a unique record of the evolution of surface environments, climates, and habitability on early Mars,” researchers say.
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