In DepthPlanetary Science

Europe's Mars rover to target ancient wetland

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Science  30 Oct 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6260, pp. 490-491
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6260.490

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European planetary scientists are still building the roving laboratory they plan to send to Mars in 2018, but now they know where it will land: Oxia Planum. Clay deposits and landforms suggest this ancient region once hosted lakes, rivers, and a delta, making it just the sort of place to dig for signs of possible martian life. That is the mission of the ExoMars 2018 rover, one component of a multipart joint mission by the European Space Agency (ESA) and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos. The landing site—chosen after intense discussions at the ESA's technology center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands—beat out three other candidates. One "must" for all four ExoMars sites was clay: fine-grained sediment that, on Earth, is deposited by water and is excellent at preserving the remains of ancient organisms. At Oxia Planum, the clays were covered by other material for billions of years and then recently uncovered by wind erosion. The long burial may have shielded them from ionizing radiation from space that could destroy organic molecules near the surface.