Skip to Content

NASA has chosen where it’s going to look for ancient life on Mars in 2020

November 20, 2018

NASA has picked Jezero Crater as the landing spot for its upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission, after scrutinizing more than 60 potential locations over the last five years.

The mission: The rover, set to launch in July 2020, will look for signs of ancient habitable conditions and past microbial life, collecting rock and soil samples for storage on Mars’s surface. NASA and the European Space Agency plan to eventually retrieve these samples and bring them back to Earth. “This landing site sets the stage for the next decade of Mars exploration,” NASA said.

Why Jezero Crater? The 28-mile-wide crater, which used to be the site of a river delta, is in an area that includes some of Mars’s oldest and most scientifically significant landscapes. Scientists believe ancient organic modules could have collected and been preserved from the water and sediments that flowed into the crater as far back as 3.6 billion years ago. There are at least five different types of rock present and potentially a wide variety of minerals.

The technology: The geologic diversity that makes Jezero such an appealing landing site also makes landing there a huge technical challenge for engineers. However, NASA has been working on a range of new technologies to improve entry, descent, and landing. One is Terrain-Relative Navigation, which can accurately work out where the rover is headed and divert to a safer place if it looks like a tricky surface.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024

Every year, we look for promising technologies poised to have a real impact on the world. Here are the advances that we think matter most right now.

Scientists are finding signals of long covid in blood. They could lead to new treatments.

Faults in a certain part of the immune system might be at the root of some long covid cases, new research suggests.

AI for everything: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024

Generative AI tools like ChatGPT reached mass adoption in record time, and reset the course of an entire industry.

What’s next for AI in 2024

Our writers look at the four hot trends to watch out for this year

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.