On 19 February at 7.55am, Sydney time, NASA is scheduled to land the Perseverance rover on Mars. A little-known fact is that a piece of the Australian continent is part of this mission to the Red Planet.
NASA’s Mission to Mars 2020 targets the Jezero crater on the western edge of the Isidi Basin at latitude 18º38’ north of the Martian equator. Jezero is a crater of Noachian age (4.1 to 3.7 billion years ago) of about 50 kilometres in diameter.
In the Late Noachian to Early Hesperian (3.7 to 3.0 billion years ago), this crater hosted a lake in which water-borne sediments eroded from the basaltic crust were deposited, before being blanketed by volcanic activity around 3.5 billion years ago.
This environment is considered to be a geological analogue to conditions on Earth 4.0 to 3.5 billion years ago, when microbial life was taking hold on our planet. Whether or not life was also emerging on Mars at the same time is the focus of Mission to Mars 2020, building on the legacy of the 2003-2018 Mars Opportunity mission.
Perseverance is carrying seven miniature laboratories and the drone Ingenuity. The aim of this remote sensing facility is to scan, probe and analyse the surface and sub-surface of the red planet, to search for life-related organic compounds, and to prepare rock samples that will be brought back to Earth in a future mission.