VIDEO of Curiosity's descent… from the rover cam itself!

By Phil Plait | August 6, 2012 6:09 pm

Well, that was fast! The MARDI – MARs Descent Imager – was designed to take images as the Curiosity rover dropped down to the surface of Mars. Those thumbnail images have been put together into a stop-motion video that’s just jaw-droppingly cool:

[It helps to set the resolution to HD and make the video as big as possible.]

The video starts when the heat shield drops away – that’s the flying saucer-like thing right at the beginning, which was also seen from space by the MRO spacecraft orbiting Mars. The parachute has already deployed by the time the video starts, so you see the image sway as the rover swings underneath the chute.

The resolution is low, but you can see the features getting bigger as the rover descends. The rockets start firing, though you can’t see that in this video… at least, not until the 45 second mark where suddenly you can see a big puff of dust as the rockets’ plumes hit the surface!

I’ll let you think on that for just a second.

As dust on Mars swirls underneath the hanging rover, you can see one of the rover wheels drop down, and then, finally, Curiosity lands on its new home.

This is where we are folks: it’s not enough that we can send our robotic proxies to other worlds using a Wile. E. Coyote series of maneuvers, but now we can also return pictures as the machines descend and see them within hours of the event itself!*

This stuff just keeps getting cooler. Science! It rocks.

Tip o’ the dust cover to the Mars Curiosity Rover on Twitter itself!

* We did this for the Huygens lander that was dropped onto Saturn’s moon Titan from Cassini as well, I’ll note, though it took longer to get them.


Comments (36)

  1. This is total science porn. Great spot on TWiT last night and thanks for keeping us up-to-date on the goings on of Curiosity.

  2. It is indeed unbelievably cool.

    I see you don’t like the media coverage – I was about to ask myself why I have no problem with it, and realized I haven’t touched it – I’ve just been watching/reading NASA.

  3. Marley

    I hope I live to see the day when we look back on this and say “Oh yeah, no big deal. I’ll be reading all this history while I take the Mars Shuttle next week.”

  4. edwardv

    How close were they to where they were aiming to land?

  5. Bobby Lovell

    Absolutely amazing!

    I’m so glad I stayed up to watch the landing. It really puts all these pictures into context and makes this all so much more incredible.

  6. Mejilan

    Holy craaaaaaaaaaap!

  7. Tara Li

    @edwardv – The preliminary estimates I heard were about 250 meters from predicted landing point. They’ll know better once they get the panorama view, and HiRIS imagery of the rover on the ground. (I’m interested in how far the skycrane ended up away!)

  8. Gib

    Marley, I want to take the tour of Mars, where we get to see the rovers’ tracks still on the ground, leading up to to the Rovers themselves, still at the place where they last powered down.

  9. If there was Media in Mars, how would they have seen the mars landing of Curiosity!
    Read it in my blog

  10. George Martin

    And just think that they haven’t yet downloaded all of the MARDI images! From my vague memory of the 7:00 PM EDT press conference, it was said the full MARDI stream of images will help them pin point the landing site.



    I don’t think Phil has mentioned this yet, but the press conference also showed an image of mount Sharp taken from one of the haz cameras.

  11. Lovely.

    Lovely lovely lovely.

    I wish Ray Bradbury were still around to see that.

    Oh, but one technical interpetty sort of quibble: it’s actually time-lapse, not stop motion. Stop motion is a form of animatioon – practiced by myself – in which inanimate objects are moved by the animator. Time lapse is when you take still images in sequence and then string them together into a movie.

  12. MacRat
  13. edwardv

    @Tara Li
    Predicted landing point? Is that the same as the center of the planned “landing ellipse” or something different they determined after they were getting close to Mars? Anyway, 250 meters sounds really good if they were aiming for the center of 20×7 km ellipse.

    Does the sky crane transmit any info about where it went before it crashes? Do they know what direction it flew off in? I’m hoping they can spot the parachute too. Does the cruise stage completely burn up or break up into pieces, or does it hit the surface as well? Could it be spotted?

  14. Tyrant

    Wile. E. Coyote?

    This is straight out of an ALIENS combat drop, and looking at the speeds and deceleration involved, the most comparable.

    Hollywood thought it up, but the engineers and staff at JPL made it happen!

  15. Wow. 250 meters from the landing site?

    Earlier, I did some calculations. The craft traveled They shot the rover 352 million miles to land in Gale Crater which is 96 miles wide.

    This is equivalent to going to New York City and, from the top of the Empire State Building, throwing a single red blood cell (approximate size of the craft at this scale), having that red blood cell fly all the way to Orlando, Florida where it hits a dart board. And 250 meters from landing? That makes the comparison into: hits a dart board less than a millimeter from dead center. *jaw drops*

    I don’t think the word “accurate” goes far enough to describe what NASA did with Curiosity. I’m in awe if their science skills.

  16. Tyrant

    While it’s still impressive, remember it’s not like shooting a bullet. They can and did do course corrections at some points.

    Still the last several hours didn’t need them, so there’s still a good amount of precision to be excited about! Just not all the way from launch 😉

  17. Keith Hearn

    I wouldn’t call this science. I’d call it engineering, which is an end result of science. The science starts in a few days or weeks, when they start using the instruments that the engineers have delivered in such an impressive manner.

    But whatever you call it, they did an awesome job of it. It makes me proud to be a human being (an animal much like the tortoise, who only makes progress when he sticks his neck out).

  18. Very cool. I’d say it’s more engineering than science, though.

  19. Messier Tidy Upper

    Whoooaaahh! Extraordinary! That doesn’t even begin to cover it. To land a car-sized rover on a whole other planet, the roaming red speck in the sky is one astounding feat of engineering.

    To capture those images so we can go for the (very final part) of the ride is, well, something else again and so much fun and awe.

    Thanks BA and NASA-JPL. 😀

  20. Craig

    Are these “false color” images?

  21. Curiosity ended up missing dead center by about 2km. Click my name for a link to the image. Very shortly before Curiosity entered the atmosphere, JPL calculated they were going to be off on the order of 240-ish meters. That obviously changed during EDL, but nonetheless, the landing was incredibly accurate. During the NASA TV broadcast, a graphic was shown which showed the landing ellipses of Curiosity, Phoenix, the MER probes, Sojourner (I think), and Viking (I think). The increase in targeting precision from the first to the most recent was astounding. Hell, the increase in targeting precision from Phoenix to Curiosity was astounding.

    One thing that I think wasn’t considered in the lead up and in the concern about whether the EDL sequence was too complicated, with too many features, was the sum of all of the US Mars lander experience, including the Mars Polar Lander kerfuffle. Through all of those landers and mistakes, the importance of testing and re-evaluation of software and hardware was driven home. We didn’t see all of the testing and simulation that was done for the MSL mission. I think JPL and NASA in general did a great job of minimizing failure potential as much as was humanly possible…..and then a little bit more. This mission to date has seen NASA at its finest.

  22. Sarah

    I just got tears in my eyes – that was amazing!

  23. First of all. The landing yesterday was great. Watched it in my internetcafe, just me at 6.30… and all the screens showing various feeds. :)
    Anyway, even Cracked has an fairly balanced article:
    Warning for language (hey it´s Cracked).
    And now we wait for the first HiRes images… *drool*

  24. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay up for the landing, but first thing I did when I got up was check the news for it. Exhilirating. And this video is just awesome, in the truest sense of the word.

    But I’m rather disappointed that no one pointed out bigfoot, yet. He’s clearly visible in a couple of the shots. Tsk. Tsk.

  25. Nigel Depledge

    Kuhnigget (11) said:

    Oh, but one technical interpetty sort of quibble: it’s actually time-lapse, not stop motion. Stop motion is a form of animatioon – practiced by myself – in which inanimate objects are moved by the animator. Time lapse is when you take still images in sequence and then string them together into a movie.

    Heh. You beat me to it.

    Here’s to internet pedantry!

  26. Renee Marie Jones

    Ok, Phil, now you are putting me into WOW overload!

  27. Wzrd1

    @14, Tyrant, it’s actually closest to Starship Troopers novel (not the lousy film adaptation) description of personnel landing.

    Aside from that, it seemed that they had no true LOS during entry, but instead fell back to tone communications. I was a bit surprised at that, as even as thin as the Martian atmosphere is, I expected a bit more ionization that would degrade communications far more.
    Can’t wait for observations and experimentation to begin at full swing!

  28. Trebuchet

    We live in an amazing time, when we can get pictures back from Mars in 15 minutes but it takes six hours to get them from the Olympics in London. (Not original with me, sorry!)

  29. wright1

    It’s going to be awhile before I’m tired of watching content related to this, especially the “Curiosity has landed” video. Made me cry even on the 4th viewing…

  30. Indy

    It is a neat video, but I am disappointed that you fell for the “stop motion” bit. This is a time-lapse sequence. I’m also disappointed that the JPL person who put this together called it a ‘stop motion’ video. In a stop motion video, the objects in the video are physically manipulated to move around between frames (this is sometimes called “claymation” when using clay objects).

  31. Joseph G

    @34 Indy: Shouldn’t you be off criticizing the folks at CERN for using Comic Sans in their big presentation?

  32. Curtis Lemanski

    I don’t believe this for a second. The evidence is out there that the lunar landing in the 60’s was fake. Now this is probably fake too. Too much money riding on it. Has anyone been on the moon since Armstrong. They landed then without the computers of today allegedlly. No person has been on the moon since. Why are there no buildings on the moon. Why not anything? Now I am suppose to believe this mars stuff. I’m not. I say fake.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar