Get excited: the new Mars rover Curiosity is set to land early next week. And the Internet wants you to be prepared, circulating articles, explanations, and lots of videos, the highlights of which we’ve collected here:
Why Do We Have Curiosity?
Considering that we already have one working rover on the surface of the Red Planet, what’s with all the brouhaha over this one? To find out why we’re sending Curiosity to Mars, Ph.D Comics went to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to talk to scientists, ogle the full-sized replica of Curiosity, and learn about the new rover’s scientific instruments, which include, among other things, a rock-shooting laser.
Lasers Look for Life
Laser and all, those scientific tools weigh in (on Earth’s surface at any rate) at almost 180 pounds, 16 times greater than the instruments that the older rovers carried. And many of them involve chemistry. The American Chemical Society’s video demonstrates the equipment that Curiosity will use to test the habitability of the Martian surface, and see if it is or once was capable of supporting life.
Watch the Landing (Almost) as It Happens
Life on Mars—that’s a pretty good reason for interplanetary travel, right? Now that you’re hyped up, you probably want to watch as Curiosity actually touches down on Mars. Well, you’d better set your alarm clock for early Monday morning—or stay up late Sunday night. Curiosity is scheduled to land at 1:31 AM ET. At Discover’s Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait will fill you in on where you can watch the historical landing live.
But when you brew up some coffee and sit down to watch Curiosity hit the distant planet’s surface, what will you actually be seeing? Alan Boyle of NBC News’ Cosmic Log explains that you might have to settle for tiny black-and-white images: the high-resolution color cameras on the rover’s mast won’t be deployed until days after Curiosity lands.
Watch the Landing as It’s Supposed to Happen
Perhaps instead of tuning in to the live stream of the landing, you should watch the full simulation of the nerve-wracking process, which has been dubbed “Seven Minutes of Terror,” from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. Because of the vast distance between Mars and Earth, by the time we receive the signal that Curiosity has hit the Martian atmosphere, the rover will have already been on the planet for seven minutes—if it survives the descent.
Real-World Drama on Another World
The suspense of whether or not the rover will land safely gives the live stream a major advantage over any simulation, no matter how pretty the images or how dramatic the music. Adam Mann has listed all of the notable failures of missions to Mars at Wired Science, and it turns out that the rover is up against some long odds: only 30 percent of Mars missions actually make it to the planet’s surface.
Will Curiosity survive and thrive as the newest robot alien on Mars? We’ll have to wait and find out…