Curious case of Jezero Crater: Why Nasa chose it as landing site for Perseverance rover
With less than a week left for Nasa’s Perseverance rover to reach Mars, the American space agency has highlighted the challenges of landing the vehicle on the surface of the Red planet. Nasa has successfully landed rovers on the Martian surface in the past but Perseverance rover has its own special set of challenges due to the choice of the landing site.
The rover will attempt to touch down in the most challenging terrain on Mars ever targeted - Jezero Crater. The science team of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration identified Jezero Crater as an ancient lakebed, formed billions of years ago.
According to Nasa’s Mars exploration program, the crater was filled with water to form a deep lake about the same size as Lake Tahoe, a large freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada mountains of the United States. As the climate of Mars changed, Lake Jezero dried up and surface water disappeared from the planet.
While it’s too cold and dry for life to exist today on the Martian surface, the goal of Mars 2020 is to learn whether life ever existed on the Red planet. Perseverance rover will be used to explore the rocks of the ancient lake bed and the ongoing mission is the first leg of a relay race to return samples from Mars.
On Earth, evidence of life is often preserved in the mud and sand deposited at the bottom of the lake, which is a major reason for scientists to collect rocks from Jezero Crater.
“The science team identified Jezero Crater as basically an ancient lakebed. And one of the most promising places to look for evidence of ancient microbial life and to collect samples for future return to Earth. The problem is it’s a much more hazardous place to land,” Matt Smith, Mars 2020 flight director of cruise operations, said in a video.
The complex landing sequence and targeting a location like Jezero Crater have only been possible because of new landing technologies known as Range Trigger and Terrain-Relative Navigation. But the safe landing will just be the beginning of the first leg of a mission as Perseverance rover’s job is to gather special rocks, known to preserve signs of life over time, that could be returned to Earth by a future Nasa mission.
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