NASA announces Mars 2020 rover landing site

The Jezero Crater site has been selected as the destination of the 2020 Mars rover mission, and scientists say that if life ever existed on the red planet, the crater is one of the places likeliest to hold evidence of it.

"The Mars community has long coveted the scientific value of sites such as Jezero Crater, and a previous mission contemplated going there, but the challenges with safely landing were considered prohibitive", said Ken Farley.

Jezero Crater is located on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, which is a enormous basin north of the Martian equator that was formed by an asteroid impact some 3.9 billion years ago.

Why Jezero Crater? The 28-mile-wide crater, which used to be the site of a river delta, is in an area that includes some of Mars's oldest and most scientifically significant landscapes.

Before the launch of Mars 2020, another robot is scheduled to land on Mars on Monday: The robot InSight will then begin its two-year mission as a stationary probe.

Mars 2020 is created to land inside the crater and collect samples that will eventually be returned to Earth for further analysis, perhaps by the later 2020s.

But first, the rover has to make it to the surface intact and upright, dodging a field of boulders, sand traps and the edges of the delta. Researchers and engineers are buckling down on all the equipment that the rover will use to carry out its activity, yet up until today, NASA still hadn't really chosen where on the Red Planet the rover would land.

Instead of having an analytical laboratory on board - like Curiosity has - Mars 2020 is created to look at rocks on a finer scale, seeing what biosignatures are preserved. With a little luck, NASA's rover could obtain samples from rocks in the region that still retain "signatures of past life".

"Getting samples from this unique area will revolutionise how we think about Mars and its ability to harbour life", added Mr Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the agency's science mission directorate.

"Mars had conditions more similar to Earth early on - in the first billion years - so what may have been happening in our solar system that allowed life to start on this planet may also be evident on Mars itself".