The Case for Columbia Hills

Friday, 17 March, 2017 - 13:00 to 14:00
Professor Martin Van Kranendonk
ACA Director, Head of Schools, BEES
Rountree Room, Third Floor, Biological Science Building, D26, UNSW

NASA is sending a new rover to Mars in 2020, kitted out with all the latest technology to search for signs of past life on the red planet.

But with a whole planet to explore, where would you go? What environment form more than 3 billion years ago would give you the BEST CHANCE for success in terms of discovering past life?

This is the question facing scientists now, as they debate where to send the Mars2020 mission, tasked with not only exploring a past environment, but also collecting a suite of samples for return to Earth for more in-depth analysis.

Recently, I returned from NASA’s 3rd Landing Site Workshop that decided on the top three sites for Mars2020. Amid controversy, the final sites selected represent three distinct settings with astrobiological significance: 1) Jezero Crater is an impact crater into which a river ran, forming a multilobe delta deposit; 2) NE Syrtis, an area of ancient crust with carbonate alteration; 3) Columbia Hills, site of previous exploration by the Spirit Rover, and host to nodular opaline silica deposits interepreted to be from a hot spring.

In this talk, I’ll discuss the relevant astrobiological aspects of each of the top three sites and why the Columbia Hills is my preferred site, tell how the voting went, and discuss the origin of life along the way – so come along for the ride!