If you’re feeling in need of some travel to broaden your horizons but you don’t have the option to leave home right now, the European Space Agency (ESA) has something special to offer you: A virtual flight over the famous Jezero Crater on Mars.
The video, created using computer simulations from data collected by ESA’s Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, begins in orbit and shows a soothing swoop down to Jezero’s location, before switching to a point of view slightly above the surface to show you the view of the crater from above. First you see a pan around the entire crater, then the video goes closer to show the features of the crater in more detail.
You’ll then see some of the most important features in the crater: a long, winding outlet channel where water once flowed out of the crater, then two inlet valleys called Neretva Vallis and Sava Vallis. The reason the outlet channel is so important is to do with how long water was present in this location.
To look for evidence of ancient life, we want to look in locations where liquid water was present. But when we do see evidence that there used to be water in an area, it’s hard to tell how long that lasted. Did the crater only fill with water once, or just very occasionally? Or was it regularly full of water, making it much more hospitable to potential emerging life? Most of the time, we can’t tell which of those is the case. But when it comes to Jezero, we know it must have been full of water for a pretty long time, because the water overflowed and carved out the outlet valley.
It’s pretty rare to have a crater with an outlet valley, and it makes Jezero a particularly good place to search for evidence of life if it ever existed on Mars.
The inlet valleys are exciting as well, as one of them meets the crater edge and then branches out to become a river delta. The NASA Perseverance rover is currently on its way to study this delta, where it should find layers of sediment from different times as well as potentially finding a wide variety of rocks, carried to this location by ancient rivers.
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