|An artist's rendering of Curiosity in the Gale Crater on Mars. Image Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech|
You can bet that scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be at work late this Sunday. In fact, they'll likely be at the edge of their seats until at least 10:31 pm local (Pacific) time--that's when the new Mars rover Curiosity is scheduled to touch down and begin its search for evidence of life on the Red Planet. Just landing the car-sized rover safely in Mars' Gale Crater will be a feat of physics. (Among other things, it requires a maneuver engineers call a sky crane, which involves lowering the rover on a cable from a hovering rocket stage released by a passing spacecraft.)
Once Curiosity has its wheels under it, it will be a rolling geology and chemistry lab. It's equipped with cameras, a drill, a sieve, analytical tools for assessing the chemical composition of air and soil samples, and laser called the "ChemCam" that can vaporize bits of rock from roughly nine meters (30 feet) away and test their composition. Our image of the week shows an artist's rendering of the Curiosity examining Martian rocks with a set of tools at the end of its two-meter (seven-foot) arm.
Visit NASA's "Follow Your Curiosity" page to see more images, watch a video simulation of the Curiosity's landing, download fact sheets about the rover, or find a landing party in your state.
Will you be watching? If you're an educator, are you using the landing as a teaching opportunity?