There are two sites that have recently entered the scientific spotlight, bearing the beautiful Latin names Oxia Planum and Mawrth Vallis. They are both associated with hard evidence of the Red Planet’s ancient water reserves, which, if ultimately proved, will directly point to the type of life that possibly thrived there.
Research teams from the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russia’s Roscosmos are preparing for a landing mission on Mars, heading for a particular spot called Oxia Planum that is believed to have housed a massive pool of water in the prehistoric era. The teams are preliminarily scheduled to confirm the landmark site in mid-2019, just months prior to the much anticipated 2020 launch to the Red Planet.
Along with Oxia Planum, there is another site researchers have called attention to – that is Mawrth Vallis, which literally means “a valley on Mars”. It similarly lies north of the planet’s equator.
In line with the mission, an ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars rover will reach the destination with a tiny robot on board, to take samples for subsequent case studies based on vast evidence of Mars’ watery past.
Jorge Vago, one of the project scientists, revealed: “With ExoMars we are on a quest to find biosignatures,” adding that both of the selected sites provide “valuable scientific opportunities to explore ancient water-rich environments that could have been colonised by microorganisms.”
He further stated that Oxia Planum turned out to be the researchers’ absolute favourite, since it holds vast scientific potential and is home to layers of clay-rich minerals, left behind after numerous streams drained the site’s large watery mass.
The large-scale study is hoped to give a clue as to whether life ever existed on Mars – a question that has been high on scientific agenda for several consecutive years now.