Between 3.5 billion and 3.9 billion years ago, when simple life forms were emerging on Earth, a river flowed through a delta system into a lake on Mars, then a warm and wet planet. NASA plans to send a rover there to see if any traces of life remain. The Jezero Crater site has been selected as the destination of the 2020 Mars rover mission, and scientists say that if life ever existed on the red planet, the crater is one of the places likeliest to hold evidence of it. "A delta is extremely good at preserving bio-signatures—any evidence of life that might have existed in the lake water ... or possibly things that lived in the headwaters region that were swept in by the river and deposited in the delta," project scientist Ken Farley tells the BBC.
The crater was chosen after a search that looked at around 60 sites, CNN reports. Farley says researchers have wanted to know more about the site for years, but it was once thought impossible to land a rover in the rugged terrain. "What was once out of reach is now conceivable, thanks to the 2020 engineering team and advances in Mars entry, descent, and landing technologies," he says. Another rover, meanwhile, is preparing to land on Mars next week, NBC News reports. The InSight lander is due to land on the Monday after Thanksgiving to begin its mission to study the crust, mantle, and core of Mars, but it will have to survive a complicated landing NASA scientists call "seven minutes of terror" first, Forbes reports. (The Curiosity Rover has found the "building blocks of life" on Mars.)