At 05:31 UTC (01:31 Eastern US time) on August 6, the Mars Science Laboratory - commonly called Curiosity - will land on the Red Planet. Because Mars will be 250 million kilometers (150 million miles) from Earth at the time, this landing procedure is totally autonomous: pre-programmed, and without human intervention. It has to be, since it will take radio signals nearly 14 minutes to reach the lander!
However, we'll be able to follow the progress of the lander, since it will be sending signals back to Earth during the complicated and, frankly, terrifying deceleration process and Rube Goldbergian sequence to get down to the surface.
If you want to watch the proceedings live, I have a few things you can do.
1) Fraser Cain, Pamela Gay, and I will be doing a Google+ Hangout on August 5th starting at 03:00 UTC on August 5/6 and running until 07:00 - note that for the US, this starts on the evening of the 5th at 23:00 Eastern time and runs through 03:00 in the morning. We plan on having special guests, a live feed from NASA, and more. The Hangout is being sponsored by Google itself, CosmoQuest, and the SETI Institute, which has a strong astrobiology mission and therefore is very interested in Mars. Our coverage will be complete, intense, awesome, and fun. Promise! There's more info at Universe Today, and we have an events page set up on G+ to help you out. There's also a Facebook events page, too! Use the #marshangout hashtag on Twitter to follow along, too.
3) If you are in the Pasadena California area, then join the party! Literally: The Planetary Society is throwing a bash to celebrateand watch the landing at the Paseo Colorado - Garfield Promenade on Saturday, August 4. Attending will be TPS blogger (and big pal o' mine) Emily Lakdawalla as well as Bill Nye (yes, THE Bill Nye). You can get more info on Emily's blog, and get tickets online. If I could, I'd go there too! But I'll be at home and quite busy myself (see #1 above).
4)JPL The Planetary Society is holding PlanetFest at the Pasadena Convention Center on August 4 and 5 - it's again a celebration of planetary exploration. It looks like fun!
Art credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech
- Wil Wheaton has Curiosity
- Mars Attacks of the Show
- Landing on Mars: Seven minutes of terror
- Curiosity on its way to Mars!