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A landing site proposed by PSI scientists was one of eight selected for further study as a target for NASA’s 2020 Mars Rover Mission. PSI Senior Scientists Becky Williams and Cathy Weitz were part of a team of researchers who successfully argued for the Melas basin, located in central Valles Marineris, to be the destination for the 2020 Mars rover.
Half of the final eight candidate landing sites are interpreted as former lake environments, an excellent geologic setting to preserve signatures of possible ancient life. The Melas basin was rated highly by the science community because former lake deposits are present throughout the landing ellipse, making it an ideal 'land-on' site. Also, the layered rocks are well exposed here so that the time order of each layer is known relative to surrounding layers, providing researchers with important chronological information.
"No matter where the rover touches down within the landing ellipse, the science team can immediately get to work. This site ensures that most of the rover's mission time will be spent using its tools to interrogate the rocks and collect samples to return to Earth for detailed analyses,” Williams said.
The Melas basin is a rich geologic site to explore with the Mars 2020 rover. Within the landing ellipse, there is a diversity of sedimentary deposits formed by a range of depositional environments. The majority of the ellipse is layered deposits interpreted as lacustrine sediments that record the history of a long-lasting lake within the basin. In addition, there are sediments that were deposited in deltas, alluvial fans, debris flows and landslides.
NASA held the second in a series of landing site workshops for the 2020 mission to Mars in early August. At this workshop, participants voted on how each proposed landing site fit the mission’s scientific objectives. The eight selected sites, culled from 21 presented at the workshop, will be reduced to only four sites in early 2017. Mars 2020 is scheduled to launch in July-August 2020.
Above, this image offers details on the southwest Melas Basin landing site on Mars, one of eight proposed landing sites for NASA's 2020 Mars Rover Mission.