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NASA's Perseverance Mars rover is about to land in Jezero Crater. Here's what we know about the place.

Jezero Crater may be the proving ground in our search for Martian life.

If all goes to plan, NASA's Perseverance rover will alight at the location Thursday (Feb. 18) to start its multi-year quest to seek signs of habitability and cache particularly promising rocks for a future sample-return mission to bring to Earth's laboratories.

Picking the spot Percy will explore was an "exhaustive" process, NASA said in a statement, requiring five years of research examining 60 candidate locations. Mars sports abundant evidence of water and organic molecules, making it difficult to pick one single spot to answer the scientific questions driving the Mars 2020 mission.

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An illustration shows Jezero Crater, where NASA's Mars Perseverance rover will look for signs of ancient life. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/USGS)

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But NASA determined Jezero was a good location to show how water periodically appeared and then disappeared on the Martian surface. Scientists believe Mars lost its water because the atmosphere grew too thin, but about 3.5 billion years ago, Jezero appears to have been a potentially habitable river valley.

"Scientists see evidence that water carried clay minerals from the surrounding area into the crater lake," NASA representatives wrote in a description of the site. "Conceivably, microbial life could have lived in Jezero … If so, signs of their remains might be found in lakebed or shoreline sediments. Scientists will study how the region formed and evolved, seek signs of past life, and collect samples of Mars rock and soil that might preserve these signs."

When NASA selected Jezero in 2018, scientists said a delta is typically an ideal spot to search for signs of ancient life, which would likely be microbial.

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"A delta is extremely good at preserving biosignatures, [be they] evidence of life that might have existed in the lake water, or at the interface between the sediment and the lake water, or, possibly, things that lived in the headwaters region that were swept in by the river and deposited in the delta," Mars 2020 project scientist Ken Farley, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said during a s conference held that November.

Jezero Crater is about 18 degrees north of the Martian equator and shows extensive variety in geology, allowing scientists to look at diverse rocks that may represent the planet's evolution over the eras. The site's drawback, however, is that the complex terrain poses danger during landing with obstacles such as sand dunes. The scientists also wanted to avoid touching down on the delta itself.

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NASA's Mars 2020 will land in Jezero Crater, pictured here. The image was taken by instruments on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which regularly takes images of potential landing sites for future missions.

A view of the Perseverance rover's landing site in Jezero Crater as seen by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL)
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This image shows the remains of an ancient delta in Jezero Crater, which NASA's Perseverance Mars rover will explore for signs of fossilized microbial life. The image was taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA's Mars Express orbiter.

This image shows the remains of an ancient delta in Jezero Crater. It was taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA's Mars Express orbiter. (Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin)
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The white circle near the center of this image of Mars represents the location where NASA’s Perseverance rover is expected to land on Feb. 18, 2021. The landing ellipse, measuring 4.8 miles by 4.1 miles (7.7 kilometers by 6.6 kilometers), places the rover at the site of an ancient river delta which could harbor signs of fossilized microbial life. The fan-like shape of the delta is visible in this image, as is the crater rim. The crater was once filled with a lake several hundred feet deep. The basemap image featured here was taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera aboard the ESA (European Space Agency) Mars Express orbiter. Light color processing has been applied to highlight surface features.

The white circle near the center of this image of Mars represents the location where NASA’s Perseverance rover is expected to land. (Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU-Berlin/NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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This annotated map of Jezero Crater on Mars was created from the red, green and blue channels of the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express, combined with high-resolution data from its nadir channel, which is directed perpendicular to the surface of Mars.

This annotated map of Jezero Crater on Mars was created using data from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA's Mars Express orbiter. (Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin)
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This map shows regions in and around Jezero Crater on Mars, the landing site of NASA's Perseverance rover. The green circle represents the rover's landing ellipse. The map was created in a tool called Campaign Analysis Mapping and Planning (CAMP), developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Southern California, which manages the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Data for the map was provided by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), one of the cameras aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, also managed by JPL. The University of Arizona, in Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., in Boulder, Colorado.

This map shows regions in and around Jezero Crater on Mars, the landing site of NASA's Perseverance rover. The green circle represents the rover's landing ellipse. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/USGS/University of Arizona)
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This elevation map of Jezero Crater on Mars was created from ESA Mars Express data.

This elevation map of Jezero Crater on Mars was created from ESA Mars Express data. (Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin)

Long ago, Jezero contained a deep lake about the size of Lake Tahoe. The mission plan calls for Perseverance to land at the rim of the crater. The rover will wander over to the delta to examine the sediments, before examining the ancient shoreline and finally checking out some of the rocks at the rim of the crater.

"These rocks would have been hot shortly after the impact and may have hosted hot springs," scientist Ken Farley, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a December 2018 flyover video based on imagery collected by Mars orbiters. "Deposits from these springs would be another target in our search for possible ancient life on Mars."

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