NASA’s efforts are approaching a critical juncture for a mission to Mars

Collecting samples is the first part of a long-term mission to answer key questions about the Red Planet.

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Three years after taking off for Mars and two and a half years after successfully landing on the planet, NASA’s Mars 2020 mission is nearing the edge of the carbonate unit. (You may also be interested in: They determined for the first time whether an asteroid would collide with Earth)

It is located on one of the rims of the Jezero Crater, the site chosen by the mission for the landing and exploration of the Perseverance rover. That planet has a kind of belt of a mineral important to scientific research: carbonate.

On Earth, “carbonates typically form on the shallow shores of freshwater or alkaline lakes,” NASA explains. In addition, they act as a form of preservation for animal or plant fossils, which contain important information about the period of their existence.

One hypothesis for the presence of carbonates on Mars is that there was a lake in the Jezera Crater millions of years ago, which would have led to the formation of the belt. “An alternative hypothesis is that the carbonates formed through inorganic carbonation, where silicate minerals (such as olivine) react with CO₂ to become carbonates,” the space agency explained. (We recommend: They said the “mysterious” hole was caused by a meteorite, but there is another explanation)

Along with these hypotheses, the Mars 2020 research team hopes that these rocks harbor information about Mars’ past atmosphere and its climate history. They can also find fossils or information about past life on the planet within the carbonate.

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“Although we still don’t know exactly how the rim rocks or the carbonates in them formed, the team is eager to drill into these rocks and uncover their secrets,” NASA said.

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Misty Tate

"Freelance twitter advocate. Hardcore food nerd. Avid writer. Infuriatingly humble problem solver."

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