Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2012 July 31

Curiosity Before Mars: Seven Minutes of Terror
Image Credit: JPL, NASA

Explanation: Next week at this time, there may be an amazing new robotic explorer on Mars. Or there may be a new pile of junk. It all likely depends on many things going correctly in the minutes after the Mars Science Laboratory mission arrives at Mars and attempts to deploy the Curiosity rover from orbit. Arguably the most sophisticated landing yet attempted on the red planet, consecutive precision events will involve a heat shield, a parachute, several rocket maneuvers, and the automatic operation of an unusual device called a Sky Crane. These "Seven Minutes of Terror" -- depicted in the above dramatic video -- will begin on Monday, August 6 at about 5:24 am Universal time, which occurs on Sunday night, August 5 for western North Americans. If successful, the car-sized Curiosity rover will rest on the surface of Mars, soon to begin exploring Gale Crater to better determine the habitability of this seemingly barren world to life -- past, present, and future. Although multiple media outlets may cover this event, one way to watch these landing events unfold is on the NASA channel live on the web.

Tomorrow's picture: open space

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (UMCP)
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