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Mars landing site picked by an ERC grantee from University of Lyon

The European Mars mission in 2018 will land on the site identified by Prof Cathy Quantin-Nataf, grantee of the European Research Council (ERC), and her team at Université Lyon 1 and Observatoire de Lyon. Their choice of site, named Oxia Planum, was confirmed by the European Space Agency (ESA) on 21 October as the prime landing site for the robotic mission.

The ESA’s 2018 mission is part of the ExoMars programme to answer one of the outstanding scientific questions of our time – whether life ever existed on Mars. Initially eight landing sites were proposed to ESA in 2014, following an open call for landing site proposals. To find the best spot, the team from Lyon developed a software to analysed large amounts of data collected by previous orbital missions.

“This is how we could identify the “Oxia Planum” site, an unknown place on Mars so far. We proposed Oxia Planum for ExoMars 2018, because it had the potential to fulfil the goal of this space mission, that is to find traces of life,” said Prof. Quantin-Nataf, a geologist specialising in surface of planets. “It’s an old, wide, barren plain containing phyllosilicates, minerals with bound water, which indicate a water environment favourable to development of life. It also seems to be safe for landing: without safe landing, there is no science.” The location has the features that appear to be shaped by rivers and deltas. It seems to have a long water-related history.

“We really expect to find there the clues of ancient Mars that would help us understand our own history,” said Prof. Quantin-Nataf. “On Earth we don’t have evidence from the time when life appeared, but Mars stopped its intense geologic activity around 3.5 billion years ago, much earlier than our planet. This gives us a window on the early Earth and on our origin.”

Project details

  • Project acronym: E-MARS
  • Participants: France (Coordinator)
  • Project N°: 280168
  • Total costs: € 1 392 000
  • EU contribution: € 1 392 000
  • Duration: November 2011 – October 2017



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