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The Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity, lands today – hopefully (5:31 pm NZ time). But when will we know if the landing has been successful?

Communication between Mars and Earth is hardly simple. It’s not just the time delays involved (currently about 15 min). There’s also rotation of both planets. So communication with Curiosity (if it lands successfully) will involve three satellites in orbit around Mars – the Odyssey Orbiter, the Reconnaissance Orbiter and ESA’s Mars Express. (Watch this video to see the alignment of Curiosity, Odyssey and Reconnaiscance during landing). Messages, and particularly data, may need to be stored on board Curiosity or the satellites before transmission to earth.

So we may not even have confirmation of Curiosity’s safe landing for several hours – maybe even several days. This video describes the problems and how they are overcome.

Thanks to Universe Today: When Will We Hear From Curiosity?

Curiosity’s landing site

Here’s a computer-generated view of Mars’ Gale crater as if seen from an aircraft north of the crater. Because of its history, 96-mile wide Gale Crater crater landing site is an ideal region for exploration of the planets history.

It has thick exposed sections of layered sedimentary rocks with a wet history. Joy Crisp, Mars Science Laboratory Deputy Project Scientist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said:

“The rock record preserved in those layers holds stories that are billions of years old — stories about whether, when, and for how long Mars might have been habitable.”

For further information go to Image of the Day –NASA’s Gale Crater Mars Landing Site for Tomorrow’s ‘Search-for-Life’ Mission.

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