Within months of Curiosity’s August 2012 landing, scientists learned that the answer was “Yes.” The rover now is on its way to assess the habitability of other sites and figure out how any organic material could have been preserved.
Even if life never took hold on Mars, the planet should have a rich stew of organic material from crashing comets and asteroids.
By the time ExoMars managers choose a landing site in 2016 or 2017, they may have even more guidance from Curiosity.
“We’re not just after water anymore,” Grotzinger said. “Now we’re honing in on the right kind of habitable environments. Then, we have to have (the right instruments) to know which subset of those habitable environments might contain the organic goodies.
“I think each time we do this, we’re getting more sophisticated. We’re getting a better understanding. But it’s also a much tougher question each time,” Grotzinger said.
In addition to data from Curiosity, sister rovers Opportunity and Spirit, and past landers, scientists will use imagery and chemical analysis from Europe’s Mars Express, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and other Mars-orbiting satellites to assess prospective landing sites for ExoMars.
Scientists met in Madrid this week to begin considering eight potential landing sites, all near Mars’ equator. They hope to winnow the candidates’ list to four by June or July.