Scientists this week began assessing what may be the most important part of an upcoming mission to look for life on Mars: location, location, location.
Europe's ExoMars rover, slated for launch in 2018, will be the most focused and ambitious attempt to find evidence of past or present life on Mars since NASA's Viking expeditions four decades ago.
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ExoMars' planners aren't starting from scratch, however. Recent findings from NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity mission, for example, indicate that ExoMars may not have drill down very deep -- or perhaps not at all -- to collect viable samples for analysis.
ExoMars will carry a drill capable of burrowing up to 6.6 feet (2 meters) into the planet's surface. Scientists figure that at that depth, organic materials -- if they exist -- would be shielded from the onslaught of damaging radiation that constantly pummels the planet.
"One of the things that Curiosity has been able to do is understand that not all surfaces on Mars are created equal and have equal ages," California Institute of Technology geologist John Grotzinger, who leads the rover's science team, told Discovery News.