NASA's Perseverance rover: Experts discuss Mars landing
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NASA’s Mars rover has less than 300,000 miles to go before it will attempt to land on the Red Planet. The landing will be the mission’s biggest hurdle yet, due to the enormity of the task and an 11-minute delay in communications between Earth and Mars. Perseverance will dive towards the planet’s surface virtually blind and without outside guidance, going through a sequence of events known as the “seven minutes of terror”.
If all goes well, Perseverance will land in the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater – an ancient lakebed where life may have once dwelt.
Perseverance will explore Jezero, analysing rocks and soil samples in the search for fossilised evidence of alien life.
Hannah Barnyard, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich in London, told Express.co.uk: “The question of is there any other life in the Universe is one that excited most people.
“If there is evidence to suggest life once existed on our next-door neighbour, it indicates life may be prevalent throughout the Universe.
“The discovery of life on another planet would not only change the scientific community but would impact the entire global consciousness as we comprehend the fact that we are not alone.”
What time will Mars rover land?
Because of the 11-minute delay in communications, NASA will not know whether Perseverance has safely landed until well after the fact.
Regardless, NASA expects to know by 3.55pm Eastern Time or 12.55pm Pacific.
Here in the UK, this will be at 8.55pm GMT, and in India, that will be 2.20am IST on Friday morning.
Here are some other locations and times when the landing will be confirmed.
- Central European Time: 9.55pm.
- Moscow, Russia: 11.55pm
- Beijing, China: 4.55am
- Seoul, South Korea: 5.55am
- Tokyo, Japan: 5.55am
- Canberra, Australia: 7.55am
Mars rover landing timeline:
The rover’s landing promises to be NASA’s most thrilling yet and many things will need to go right for Perseverance to survive the descent.
Below is a list of timestamped events – including the 11-minute delay – in the rover’s landing sequence.
8.38pm GMT – Perseverance and its landing capsule will separate from the mission’s cruising stage. The two will separate after coasting through space for six-and-a-half months.
8.48pm GMT – Perseverance will dive into the Martian atmosphere at speeds of about 12,000mph.
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8.49pm GMT – NASA expects the resistance put up by the Martian atmosphere to heat Perseverance’s heat shield to a scorching 1,300C (2,370F).
8.52pm GMT – Perseverance will deploy its supersonic parachute that will help slow the rover down a considerable amount, although not entirely. About 20 seconds later, Perseverance will jettison the heat shield, allowing it to scan the planet’s surface for a safe landing spot.
8.54pm GMT – The back half of the entry capsule will detach together with the parachute. Perseverance will then be free to engage the Skycrane – a jetpack-like device featuring eight rocket engines. The engines will slow the rover down to a leisurely 1.7mph.
8.55pm GMT – Skycrane will lower the rover to the planet’s surface on a set of nylon cables. Once Perseverance touches down, Skycrane will detach and fly off and crash a safe distance away.
All of this will happen without any external input and NASA’s flight controllers will be as much in the dark as the people following the mission online.
But should everything go smoothly, the potential payoff promises to be staggering.
Ms Barnyard said: “Perseverance will help to characterise the Martian environment, telling us more about the planet’s weather patterns including its infamous dust storms.
“We will learn if Jezero Crater ever was and perhaps if it still is an ideal location for life to exist along with further details of the planet’s geological history.”
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