Congratulations, Jezero Crater!
A fascinating new Mars frontier awaits NASA's next red planet rover. The space agency announced its choice for the Mars 2020 mission landing site Monday and it's quite a crater.
Jezero Crater beat out two other top candidates to win the rover jackpot.
"The landing site in Jezero Crater offers geologically rich terrain, with landforms reaching as far back as 3.6 billion years old, that could potentially answer important questions in planetary evolution and astrobiology," says NASA's Thomas Zurbuchen.
Mars 2020 project scientist Ken Farley says, "The Mars community has long coveted the scientific value of sites such as Jezero Crater." The crater sits just north of the planet's equator and once featured a river delta. This makes it a prime spot for preserving possible signs of ancient microbial life.
NASA had contemplated sending a previous mission to the crater, but had to wait for improvements in landing technology to deliver the rover safely into the area's challenging terrain. NASA says it's been able to reduce the Mars 2020 landing zone to an area 50 percent smaller than the one needed for the Curiosity rover in Gale Crater in 2012.
Mars 2020 is scheduled to launch in July 2020. It'll look for signs of habitable conditions from the planet's ancient past, but also collect and store surface samples with the hope that a future mission will be able to retrieve the cache and bring it back to Earth.