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The science team for the next American Mars rover, Mars 2020, has decided to consider a fourth candidate landing site, located between two other candidate sites.
The site has been dubbed “Midway,” because it’s roughly halfway between two other candidate landing locations — Jezero delta and Northeast Syrtis. The third previously identified candidate is the Columbia Hills region of Gusev Crater, which NASA’s now-defunct Spirit rover explored after touching down in January 2004.
Jezero, Northeast Syrtis and Columbia Hills were selected as finalists at the third 2020 rover landing site workshop, which was held in February 2017.
Midway has the same morphologic units as Northeast Syrtis and is relatively close to Jezero, explained John Mustard, a professor in the Department of Earth Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. “It has emerged from Mars 2020 science team members I believe brainstorming on possibly getting two birds with one rover,” Mustard told Inside Outer Space.
Based on this story, it sounds to me as this new site has emerged as the favorite. It would put the rover down in the transition zone between Mars’s northern low plains and its southern highlands, an area where evidence of the receding shoreline of any past intermittent ocean might exist. It would also allow it to study geology similar to two previous candidate sites.
One problem they may have is that this candidate site has not yet been photographed in detail by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s (MRO) high resolution camera, as have the other sites. They will need to get time on MRO to do this in order to make sure this site is acceptable.