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Europe’s upcoming Mars rover now has a detailed map to help search for ancient life on the Red Planet (video)

“This map is exciting because it’s a guide to where we can find answers,” said Peter Fawdon of the Open University UK. press release. “It serves as a visual impression of what we know now about the various rocks in the landing area. The tools of Rosalind Franklin will allow us to check our knowledge immediately when the time comes.”

At first it was a collaboration with Russia, who provided the landing platform for the rover, the mission it’s delayed since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022. A new launch date is planned before October 2028 when scientists update the plan and design and build a new landing platform, with the goal of reaching Mars in 2030.

Related: ExoMars: European astronomy courses on Mars

topographical map of a part of mars with many large craters and many small craters
Image of the Oxia Planum region on Mars produced by ESA’s Mars Express orbiter and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). (Image credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

The chances of finding living organisms on Mars today are slim considering the cold, dry and highly irradiated conditions on the red planet, but the prevailing hypothesis is that Mars was warm and it is liquid and may have hosted life 3.5 billion years ago. We see the evidence for this with the remains of river channelsfloods and coasts, on the mineralogy of these places, and to presence of organic molecules. 

If life existed long ago, its biosignatures probably remain locked in Martian rocks waiting to be discovered by the Rosalind Franklin rover.

The rover’s mission will involve driving many kilometers across Oxia Planum, a large plain containing clay minerals that were deposited long ago by liquid water. The rover will regularly drill 2 meters (6.5 feet) into the soil and extract samples to be analyzed by Pasteur’s laboratory. 

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photo of craters on Mars covered in different colors representing different mineral concentrations
As part of building a new global mineral map of Mars, the Oxia Planum area was found to be rich in clay. These clays included the iron- and magnesium-rich minerals smectite and vermiculite, and local kaolin, known on Earth as china clay. Hydrated silica has also been mapped on the old Oxia delta. The closest details were found in the global mineral map produced by ESA’s Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. (Image credit: ESA/Mars Express (OMEGA and HRSC) and NASA/Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (CRSM))

Clays are considered excellent materials for preserving biosignatures, and among the instruments the rover will use to study these samples is the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer (MOMA), which will test instruments designed to test to identify molecules made of carbon. such as amino acids, lipids and even RNA and DNA (or their Martian analogue) that would have been left behind by life alone. That’s why the rover came into existence Rosalind Franklin’s nameBritish chemist who played an important role in understanding the structure of DNA.

However, as soon as the rover’s wheels touch the Martian dirt, the scientists turn back The world need to know where to drive Rosalind Franklin to stand the best chance to achieve its goals. 

The new map will therefore help scientists plan the rover’s journey, by identifying 15 types of geological features in the Oxia Planum region, including rock fields, thin aeolian lines (TARs) are believed to have been created by wind, multiple fractures, craters and associated ejecta, polygonal and rectilinear honeycombs, dark surface layers, and various of rocks and sediment particles dating back about 4 billion years. . 

A map of the landforms on Mars next to a chart showing the different types of materials each layer is made of
The map includes basic rock types, and structures with unique shapes such as ridges and craters. It also contains material that sits on top, for example, blown by the wind, or thrown a long distance when a meteorite hits the surface. The shape of the surface on which the map is displayed is created from the orbital images in a painstaking process. In some areas, long and straight ‘lines’ can be seen as a result of this process. (Image credit: Fawdon and Orgel et al., Journal Of Maps)

It is still not clear how all these parts are made; Many polygonal forms are often associated with subsurface ice or permafrost that is often found at high altitudes, for example, but the presence of ice beneath Oxia Planum, which is at a low elevation of 18 degrees per north of the equator of Mars. not yet found (however ice has been found in some places near the equator of Mars).

These various geological types, and the periods in which they originated (the Noahic period from 4.1 to 3.7 years ago, the Hesperian from 3.7 to 3 billion years ago, and the Amazonian from 3 billion years ago to today) are colors. – is written on the map. It has a scale of 1:25000, which means that each centimeter (0.4 inches) on the map represents 250 meters (820 feet) on Mars. An average daily rover drive of 25–50 meters (82–164 feet) would cover only a few millimeters on the map. 

The start of the map was actually a project of the COVID-Lockdown, with 80 trained volunteers marking 134 areas of every square kilometer in the area based on data from Europe’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and NASA’s. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. 

The rover’s lead scientists combined all the information from the volunteers to create the final version of the map, which was published in Journal of Maps.

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