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Mars Madness: A closer look at Jezero Crater

Billions of years ago, an enormous space rock struck Mars and excavated a 750-mile-wide (1,200 kilometers) crater now called the Isidis impact basin. But the cosmos wasn’t done yet. Another smaller strike inside the basin later produced an embedded crater that’s since been dubbed Jezero Crater. The overlapping pair of impacts uniquely changed the rocks in the region, helping to create a special landscape that scientists think may have once been friendly to life. 

In just a few short weeks, NASA’s Perseverance rover will begin to survey the area “in person.” 

Jezero Crater: A varied landscape

Based on spacecraft imagery, researchers think Jezero Crater was once home to a lush river delta. Deltas form as rivers drop sediment into relatively placid, larger bodies of water — like lakes and oceans. And that process of deposition creates a number of varied environments.

When Mars was still young and wet, and life was likely just taking hold on Earth, Jezero Crater was home to a 1,600-foot-deep (500 m) lake. Scientists think a network of rivers probably fed into this site, making it a prime place for life to have evolved on the Red Planet. 

And that’s why NASA chose to explore it. The idea of a persistent wetland on Mars was enough to convince astronomers to select Jezero Crater as the landing site for NASA’s Perseverance rover, as well as its companion the Ingenuity helicopter

Jezero Crater — named after the small town of Jezero, Bosnia — spans roughly 28 miles (45 kilometers), giving the rover plenty of room to roam. (More than a decade ago, the International Astronomical Union, the organization responsible for naming planetary bodies, decided to name a number of scientifically important Mars craters after small towns around Earth.)

Perseverance is a nearly car-sized rover that’s designed to characterize Mars’ geology and study its ancient climate. Along the way, it will hunt for signs of ancient alien life — specifically, microbial life — and collect soil and rock samples that will eventually be sent back to Earth for further study at world-class laboratories.  

And Jezero Crater provides the perfect place for Perseverance to pick up an array of promising samples.

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