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I am now running my annual July fund-raising campaign to celebrate the twelfth anniversary of the establishment of Behind the Black. For many reasons, mostly political but partly ethical, I do not use Google, Facebook, Twitter. These companies practice corrupt business policies, while targeting conservative websites for censoring, facts repeatedly confirmed by news stories and by my sense that Facebook has taken action to prevent my readers from recommending Behind the Black to their friends.


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The ExoMars 2020 landing site

ExoMars 2020 landing site

Last week the European Space Agency (ESA) announced the final chosen landing site for their 2020 ExoMars rover, a region called Oxia Planum.

Since then they have posted several detailed overview maps describing this region. The image on the right, reduced slightly to post here, shows the final two candidate elliptical landing sites in black, with Oxia Planum on the left. The caption for this image adds this tantalizing detail:

Both landing site candidates lie close to the transition between the cratered northern highlands and the southern lowlands of Mars. They lie just north of the equator, in a region with many channels cutting through from the southern highlands to the northern lowlands. As such, they preserve a rich record of geological history from the planet’s wetter past, billions of years ago.

To understand better what they mean by this, we need to zoom out.

ExoMars 2020 landing sites

The overview map on the right shows the area in the above image, indicated by the white box, in context with Mars’s more well known geography. The red rectangles on the map are Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) images. The two finalist candidate landing sites are easily spotted in the box, as blobs of red where many many images were taken. Once again, Oxia Planum is the blob in the lower left of the box.

This location is east of Marineris Valles and the string of three giant volcanoes. Mars’s largest volcano, Olympus Mons, is just off the map to the west. The landing site is in the drainage region coming down from these volcanoes.

As I noted in my previous analysis of these two candidate landing sites, Mawrth Vallis is a far more spectacular site (further proven by the many more images that have been taken by MRO of it), while Oxia Planum is less risky. I predicted then that the ESA would pick the less risky site, and they have.

Oxia Planum detailed map

What makes this site very exciting, nonetheless, is its location. As they note in the quote above, it is close to the transition zone between the southern highlands and the low northern plains where some believe an intermittent ocean might have once existed. This is a region that has been found to have many shoreline-type features.

The image on the right is a reduce-in-resolution detailed map of the geological features within the Oxia Planum landing elipse. If you click on the image you can see a full resolution version. As the caption for the image notes,

The map outlines a boundary that encapsulates the range of possible landing ellipses, with some added margin. The colours represent the variety of surface terrains identified, including plains, channels, impact craters and wind-blown features, for example. It is not a geological map intended for scientific analysis, but rather a tool used to identify different surface textures and where potential hazards may lie.

The narrow ellipses with the black outline mark the most likely landing zones for the extreme case of the very beginning and end of the launch window respectively (the launch dictates the arrival inclination and there are other scenarios in between). The central touchdown point in Oxia Planum is the same regardless of the actual launch date in the 25 July–13 August 2020 launch window.

The central touchdown point is actually the high point in this region. To the west the land gently descends to that vast northern plain. The most interesting nearby features however are some meandering flow features, like rivers, to the east. These are also at lower elevations, and are also draining into that northern plain.

What ExoMars 2020 will see will depend on where it actually lands within this ellipse, and where its science team decides to send it. According to this mission website, it will travel several kilometers during its mission, set to last 180 sols, about six months. This means that it will be capable of visiting only a small section of this ellipse, and what we will see will largely be determined by the landing point.

Conscious Choice cover

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

One comment

  • wodun

    What are the chances that their rover exceeds its projected lifetime? It will be really cool if we are all pleasantly surprised.

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