Photograph of 2004 - the “Longhorn” rocky area, taken by the Spirit rover in the Gusev crater
The Columbia Hills region is one of three places along with Jezero Crater and NE Syrtis, which have become the main rivals for the next landing of the rover.
NASA's next rover can once again visit the site explored by Spirit 10 years ago. One of the landing sites of Mars was the region of Columbia Hills, which the rover studied from 2004-2010. The workshop and voting took place from 8 to 10 February in Monrovia (California). Three of the stated eight were selected on them. The main criterion was the high probability of the existence of water in them in the past. And since the mission of Mars 2020 is to find evidence of signs of life, these places increase the chances of success.
After approval by NASA, these sites are explored in more detail thanks to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and other vehicles on the Red Planet. Then one candidate will be selected.
“I think it would be nice to return to Columbia Hills,” said Jim Rice, a team member defending the research site. “We know enough about ancient conditions to understand that this is a great place for the presence of ancient organisms.”
Jezero Crater - one of the sites considered as the future goal of the Mars 2020 mission In a statement, NASA writes that Jezero Crater and NE Syrtis also have strong evidence of ancient water. In Jezero Crater, “river channels flowed through the walls of the crater and created a lake. Scientists see evidence of water remaining on clay minerals, so there can be remains of microbial life in sediments. ”
In NE Syrtis, volcanic activity and underground heat sources melted surface ice. “Microbes could thrive in this liquid water that came in contact with minerals.”
Rice understands that Mars is big, so the rover can go to a previously unexplored location. However, the advantage of Columbia Hills is that Spirit has already been there and outlined several potential, in terms of water, points. This will seriously save time for your search.
Mars 2020 is closely related to the design of the Curiosity rover, which has been searching for habitable places on Mars since landing in Gale Crater in 2012. However, the toolbox will be different. In addition to advanced cameras and spectrometers, some instruments will include the production of oxygen. That is, they will try to use Martian resources to produce oxygen (attempts) from carbon dioxide, as well as install a radiation thermal imager below the surface and Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) to measure temperature, wind speed, dust dimensions and other parameters.
NE Syrtis is another possible site for a future mission.
Geologists will look for “hydrated minerals” that carry water or some of the water components embedded in the crystal structure. An example would be clay and sulphates. In addition, geologists are looking for minerals that do not contain water in the crystal structure, but form them in the presence of water, for example, hematite.
Periodically, aspects such as the size of stony grains may also hint at the presence of water in the ancient past. So it was with Curiosity when he discovered conglomerates - sedimentary rocks of various gravel sizes.
Ken Willford, the project’s deputy, added that Mars 2020 is not seeking to find current life forms. NASA and other agencies have defined “special areas” where salt water may flow on the surface, for example, on the slopes of craters. But the spacecraft cannot be fully sterilized yet, so scientists do not want to introduce microbes into the Earth.
At the end of this month, the project Mars 2020 will be tested, in which engineers traditionally study the drawings and look for design errors. Since its structure is reminiscent of Curiosity, Willford expects the review to include spare equipment that is best integrated into the design.