Two amazing Curiosity descent videos

By Phil Plait | August 23, 2012 9:52 am

In case you’re not getting enough Curiosity in your life, here are two videos, both showing the descent from the rover’s eye view. However, these are new and pretty different!

The first video shows the descent using the high-resolution images from the MARDI (Mars Descent Imager), which have been further cleaned up and sharpened. It’s truly magnificent! Make sure you set the video to hi-res and make it full screen:

The second video is really clever: it keeps the heat shield centered in the screen, so you can follow the entire fall of the shield down to its impact on the surface of Mars.

I’ve been a scientist a long time, and I’ve worked on astronomical and space imagery since I was in high school. I’ve used film I loaded, developed, and printed myself; I’ve used giant glass plates sprayed with film emulsion and hand-guided a telescope for hours; I’ve used a digital detector that was less than a megapixel and felt like it was the greatest invention ever; and I’ve had a hand in building a camera with three digital detectors that went on board Hubble. So I’ve watched as – and participated in – this revolution in astronomical imagery as it’s unfolded.

And I strongly suspect the single greatest thing about it is the power of pictures it puts into people’s hands. We have images taken by far-flung spacecraft beamed back to Earth at the speed of light, and then sent around the world in minutes by space agencies. From there space enthusiasts and professional filmmakers alike can take that vast archive of data and play with it, show different things, bring out details we at first hadn’t seen.

And we are seeing the results now, as we literally follow the rover down to Mars in high-def, or watch as an ejected piece of hardware plummets to the surface of an alien world.

I’ve said before, and it’ll always be true: The future! We are in you!

Related Posts:

Curiosity rolls!
Curiosity spins its wheels
Gallery – Curiosity’s triumphant first week on Mars
Watch as Curiosity touches down gently *and* its heat shield slams into Mars

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures, Space
MORE ABOUT: Curiosity, heat shield, Mars

Comments (24)

  1. Dr.Sid

    Maybe it just means you are getting old Phill ..

  2. John

    That’s one of the most amazing videos I’ve ever seen.

    I hope it gets a lot of play on the news. I can think of few things that would get the public more excited about space travel than this video.

  3. Chris

    Skydiving on Mars. That is remarkably clear. Better than the landing simulations! What would be really cool would be to have the telemetry (height velocity) data on the side.

    I love the Fun Fact on the YouTube page
    Fun fact: The first mission to Mars, Mariner 4 in 1965, returned a total of 634 kb of data, including 22 photos.

  4. That guy you don't know

    The first video ends with a slow motion shot of the heat shield impacting the surface, with a red arrow following along. But hark, that red arrow is actually pointing to the *shadow* of the heat shield. The heat shield itself comes in from the right side of the frame, and is much harder to see because it flits by in one or two frames before the impact.

  5. Is it my imagination, or does she change course on the way down? It certainly looked like the FOV moved as she picked out and maneuvered toward a good spot to land.

  6. SteveJ

    I wonder how many UFO reports there were on the Martian airwaves as a result.

  7. Chris

    @4 Mike
    I don’t think that’s your imagination. If you watch the 7 minutes of terror video, after the probe releases the parachute and engages the rockets it has to shoot off in another direction to avoid smacking back into the parachute. I think that’s what you’re seeing.

  8. Guysmiley

    @ Mike: It transitioned from an arcing downward trajectory with a lateral component to essentially straight down. During the powered descent phase there’s an intentional “300 m divert maneuver for backshell avoidance”.

  9. arcblast

    oooh my god! that was one of the most awesome things ive ever seen! it looked like it was gonna impact and then FSHOOOO!! Skycrane FTW!!!

  10. The second video is really clever: it keeps the heat shield centered in the screen, so you can follow the entire fall of the shield down to its impact on the surface of Mars.

    Sure is. Heatshield gets pretty small and hard to spot near the end but, yeah, that certainly is remarkable and well done. Love it. :-)

    I’ve said before, and it’ll always be true: The future! We are in you!

    Technically, its called the present – but I think I know what you mean! 😉

    Still find it hard to believe we’re Beyond 2000* myself and its been over a decade now. Yikes!** 😮

    Tomorrow is yesterday’s today and today yesterday’s tomorrow.

    Yeah, I’m feeling old at times these days. Sigh.


    * An old TV show title from the 1980’s~ish I watched as a kid referring to the millennium year – or year before that depending on how nitpicky y’wanna be. Originally it was called Towards 2000 or was that the other way around?

    ** And Phil Plait, you gave me another big “YIKES!” moment today with your facebook comment and link to your article on CHXR 73b. Thought that was current and was staggered to see someone had already posted what looked like an old comment of mine using my *very*>long ago username of ‘mungascr’ – after a long gone now white cat that owned me plus my initials. Took me awhile to spot the date and realise it was from 2006!

  11. Hugo

    Okay, wow. Just… wow. That is amazing.

  12. These videos are wicked cool, thanks for posting them. They look great on the iPad’s retina display, BTW.

  13. bassmanpete

    * An old TV show title from the 1980′s~ish I watched as a kid referring to the millennium year – or year before that depending on how nitpicky y’wanna be. Originally it was called Towards 2000 or was that the other way around?

    MTU, it was Towards 2000 but as the millenium approached it became Beyond 2000. I remember it well.

  14. barc0de

    Do you know if curiosity is planned to visit the heatshield or skycrane impact sites – that would be quite cool to see

  15. Dragon

    The video centered on the heat shield is very cool.

    I know that the edges are jumping because the heat shield is on the edge of the fame. What would be really cool is if the video could be edited to use the video frames just before and after those moments to fill in the edges so you would not observe the edge of the frame jumping into the picture. Alas, I do not have such skills…

    Woo Hoo! Rover on Mars!

  16. Sharku

    I have a question about Curiosity itself, not so much about these admittedly way cool videos.

    In the pictures it sent back I noticed it’s littered with black and white circles, like you’d see on crash test dummies and the like. Am I correct in assuming that these are there so no matter which way Curiosity’s looking out of its many cameras, there are always at least some of those markers in the shot, which in turn helps the scientists back home judge size and distance of any features it might see?

    If I’m wrong, then what are they for? Camera calibration? Something else entirely?

  17. Troy

    Thanks again for cream skimming the cool stuff. I wish the Huygens’ images were of that quality.

  18. James Evans
  19. Messier Tidy Upper

    @14. bassmanpete : Cheers! :-)

    (D’oh! Two comments for the fingertip energy price of one for the second time tonight. My “submit comment” button is sticking or something. Good thing editing works here.)

  20. @15. barc0de : Apparently, if memory serves from an earlier thread on that the skycrane site could have chemicals that would contaminate the rover’s tests so not that one – perhaps the heatshield? Not sure.

    EDIT (Thanks again, BA! :-) ) : Yup. Found it.

    See comment #27. Jamie (August 8th, 2012 at 9:44 am) on the “Curiosity landing site: the whole mess” thread posted August 8th, 2012 07:00 hrs. (linked tomy name here also.)

  21. Wayworld

    I must be jaded by hollywood, I find the two videos to be of terrible quality very boring. I don’t see why ‘science’ has to be boring, colorless (I know the vids are in color) and only interpretable by skeptics with letters after their names. Put an IMAX equivalent camera and a microphone on board then watch ratings soar on the NASA channel. I’ve been excited about the space program since Sputnik but it seems with each advance in technology the coverage gets worse, the audience gets smaller, no one (but us) seems to care. Good job NASA!

  22. Matt B.

    “At Planet Express, tomorrow is today. And today is yesterday…. You heard me.”


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