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Hargraves Crater may hold key to discovering ancient life on Mars!

 

Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) with detail of Hargraves Crater.

Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) map of Mars with detail of Hargraves Crater
Photo credit: NASA

 

At a 2 day meeting in Washington, D.C. last week, scientists from around the world proposed for the first time candidate landing sites for the Mars Rover 2020 mission. This mission is designed to look for well-preserved, habitable environments on early Mars, collect samples that may contain biosignatures, and cache them for retrieval and return to Earth by a later mission.  One of the proposed sites advocated by Prof. Jack Mustard, a planetary geologist from Brown University, would land near Hargraves Crater and collect impact melt from its ejecta.  Recent studies of meteorite impacts on the Earth, the types of studies pioneered by Robert Hargraves, have shown that these melt encapsulated ejecta perfectly preserve biosignatures, including entire tree trunks, for millions of years.  As explained by Mustard to the audience "Of course we do not expect to find tree trunks on Mars, but impact melts offer the highest potential for preserving the biological signatures that may have existed on Mars four billion years ago."  During the next five years the Mars science community will decide the final landing site for the Mars Rover 2020.  If Mustard's site is selected and if the Rover 2020 mission is successful, then samples originating from Hargraves crater may return to Earth in the late 2020's perhaps in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Robert Hargraves' birthday.

Robert B. Hargraves was born in South Africa in 1928, received his Ph.D. from the Dept. of Geology at Princeton University in 1959 and served on its faculty for 33 years. He was the first to propose that the Vredefort Complex in South Africa was an ancient meteorite impact, discovered and studied many other terrestrial impact structures, and using magnets on the Viking lander mission to Mars discovered that the martian dust was highly magnetic.
 

Hargraves Crater

Hargraves Crater

 

Related Links:

Workshop on 2020 Landing Site for Mars Rover Mission
http://marsnext.jpl.nasa.gov/workshops/index.cfm