By SCOTT ELNES
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
The Nile River Delta. Considered one of the cradles of civilization.
The Mississippi Delta. Considered one of the cradles of the blues.
Could the delta at the Jezero Crater, the landing site for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover be the cradle of life on Mars?
We’re gonna find out.
Created when a large object struck Mars nearly 4 billion years ago – yes, that’s billion with a “B” – Jezero Crater has, according to Ken Williford, the Deputy Project Scientist for Mars 2020, strong evidence that it once contained liquid water.
“So how do we know that? There’s a river flowing in, an ancient river channel flowing in, that’s obvious from orbit to the northwest corner of the crater. And then right inside the crater rim there’s a beautiful Delta fan.”
So what exactly is a Delta?
Deltas are formed when sediments that are carried through actively moving water like rivers encounter stagnant bodies of water like lakes and oceans.
The sudden loss of energy deposits the sediments which then build up over time into islands, then wetlands and eventually fertile farm lands. A great place to start looking for microbial life.
Ah, but there are even more exciting reasons to explore Jezero Crater.
“And then on the other side of the crater, there’s an outflow channel. So there’s an ancient River channel flowing out. So not only was there a lake in Jezero crater, but for some period of time it operated as an open system with water flowing in, and water flowing out.”
So the presence of liquid water, the delta fan and the fact that it was an active open system all add up into a potential site for all kinds of ancient life.
But don’t be thinking we’re going to find anything with four legs. The expectation is if we find anything at all, it will be tiny, fossils showing evidence of microbial life that wouldn’t even be visible to the human eye.
But once Perseverance has fully investigated Jezero Crater, it’s ability to navigate difficult terrain means the mission could still continue.
“But then, if we’re lucky enough to have a working Rover and all the resources we need, we can climb onto the crater rim and start to explore the first habitable environments potentially in the Jezero system, that would have formed at the moment of impact or soon after impact, when all that energy was dumped into that that ancient Martian crust there that might have had water in cracks inside of it.
So you put all that energy into the system and set up what are called “impact generated hydrothermal systems”. So the water starts to circulate, you have some warm environments, so
could some of those environments have existed in creator rim? So we will explore that after exploring the lake, and then get outside of Jezero crater and start to get further afield into these much more mysterious, potentially much older rocks that are out there.”
Now most of the samples that could contain evidence of life are going to be put into tubes for later collection and eventually being sent to Earth where our laboratories are much better equipped to find that evidence. We’ll talk more about that in an upcoming episode.
But join me next week when I’ll tell you about one of the coolest parts of the mission for me.
A drone called Ingenuity that has been strapped to the belly of Perseverance and if all goes well, will perform the first flight ever taken by humans on another planet.