Oxia Planum: The Landing Site for the ExoMars “Rosalind Franklin” Rover Mission: Geological Context and Prelanding Interpretation

Quantin-Nataf, Cathy; Carter, John; Mandon, Lucia; Thollot, Patrick; Balme, Matthew; Volat, Matthieu; Pan, Lu; Loizeau, Damien; Millot, Cédric; Breton, Sylvain; Dehouck, Erwin; Fawdon, Peter; Gupta, Sanjeev; Davis, Joel; Grindrod, Peter M.; Pacifici, Andrea; Bultel, Benjamin; Allemand, Pascal; Ody, Anouck; Lozach, Loic and Broyer, Jordan (2021). Oxia Planum: The Landing Site for the ExoMars “Rosalind Franklin” Rover Mission: Geological Context and Prelanding Interpretation. Astrobiology, 21(3)

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1089/ast.2019.2191

Abstract

The European Space Agency (ESA) and Roscosmos ExoMars mission will launch the “Rosalind Franklin” rover in 2022 for a landing on Mars in 2023.The goals of the mission are to search for signs of past and present life on Mars, investigate the water/geochemical environment as a function of depth in the shallow subsurface, and characterize the surface environment. To meet these scientific objectives while minimizing the risk for landing, a 5-year-long landing site selection process was conducted by ESA, during which eight candidate sites were down selected to one: Oxia Planum. Oxia Planum is a 200 km-wide low-relief terrain characterized by hydrous clay-bearing bedrock units located at the southwest margin of Arabia Terra. This region exhibits Noachian-aged terrains. We show in this study that the selected landing site has recorded at least two distinct aqueous environments, both of which occurred during the Noachian: (1) a first phase that led to the deposition and alteration of ∼100 m of layered clay-rich deposits and (2) a second phase of a fluviodeltaic system that postdates the widespread clay-rich layered unit. Rounded isolated buttes that overlie the clay-bearing unit may also be related to aqueous processes. Our study also details the formation of an unaltered mafic-rich dark resistant unit likely of Amazonian age that caps the other units and possibly originated from volcanism. Oxia Planum shows evidence for intense erosion from morphology (inverted features) and crater statistics. Due to these erosional processes, two types of Noachian sedimentary rocks are currently exposed. We also expect rocks at the surface to have been exposed to cosmic bombardment only recently, minimizing organic matter damage.

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