Going to Mars? See Australia first


Scientists hone their research skills on ancient fossils.


Scientists explore Australia’s red dirt to prepare for the Red Planet.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scientists supporting both NASA's upcoming Mars 2020 mission and the European-Russian ExoMars mission have just spent time in the Australian Outback honing their research techniques in harsh environments.

In particular, they were interested in the stromatolites – structures formed by layers of cyanobacteria – in the Pilbara region in the country’s northwest, which are the oldest confirmed fossilised lifeforms on Earth.

"If we can better understand how these fossils came to be here, and the nearby geological signposts that help point the way to them, we'll be that much more prepared when hunting for signs of life on Mars," says Ken Farley, project scientist for Mars 2020.

It was the first joint science trip for the two teams.

"Just as the Apollo astronauts visited areas of geologic interest on Earth before they journeyed to the Moon, the scientists of Mars 2020 and ExoMars are doing their due diligence before their missions make the 100-million-plus-mile [160-million-plus-kilometre] trip to the Red Planet," added Mars 2020 program scientist Mitch Schulte.

The launch window for Mars 2020 opens on 17 July 2020. It will land at Mars' Jezero Crater on 18 February 2021. The launch window for ExoMars opens 25 July. 2020. It will land on the Red Planet in March 2021.

  1. https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/
  2. https://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_and_Robotic_Exploration/Exploration/ExoMars
  3. http://pilbara.mq.edu.au/wiki/Stromatolites
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