By Alexandra Witze
NASA’s next Mars rover — the first to gather rock samples meant to come back to Earth — should dream big and visit as many places on the red planet as possible, scientists concluded on 18 October.
Its stops would probably include some combination of Jezero crater, once home to river deltas and a lake; Northeast Syrtis, which contains some of the most ancient rocks on Mars; and Midway, a compromise option located between those two. Project scientists have proposed visiting both Jezero, for the river and lake sediments that might retain signs of past life, and Midway, for the ancient rocks.
The two are approximately 28 kilometres apart — so visiting both would be an ambitious but achievable goal.
“The community prefers a mega-mission,” says Bethany Ehlmann, a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “If we’re going to do sample return, it has to be a sample cache for the ages.”
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