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Tonight we go to… MARS!

August 6, 2012

I am presently in the beautiful desert city of Tucson, AZ, at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific conference, and we are about to have what they are terming a “Pajama Party” to view the live landing of the Curiosity Rover on the planet Mars.

As the landing approaches, the excitement increases. Why I am excited is not only because we are about to witness something really, really cool — a robot landing on another planet!! — but that we are landing a robot on Mars from Earth, and after that, roving around the surface to collect data on whether life exists or did exist in the past. That’s pretty amazing! Not only that, we can watch this live on TV, or on a computer, or a mobile device:

(Tune in here:

http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/mars/curiosity_news3.html)

… or perhaps you planned on attending the live stream at the Nature Research Center’s 40-foot Daily Planet Theater, which should be pretty spectacular.

The distances are vast. The distance between Mars and Earth varies from about 34 million miles apart, to more than 250 million miles apart. It took roughly 8 months to fly the  Mars Science Laboratory (which resides in the Curiosity Rover, about to land) approximately 352 million miles, and tonight, we hope, it lands successfully.

If you watch (and you should!) think about the fact that this little robot is landing on another planet, someplace we cannot send any humans (yet). Let your mind go to Mars, and think about what it would be like if you could be there too, walking and exploring this alien surface.

Tonight, as I watch, I will be thinking not first about all the data Curiosity will send back, and whether we will finally find some evidence of past or present Martian life, but simply about its journey and arrival to another world, and how we are all part of these incredible moments of exploration and discovery, even if we are within the safe confines of Earth.

Mars Curiosity Rover

Mars Curiosity – artist rendering on Mars (NASA)

Curiosity cameras

The Curiosity Rover has 17 cameras, some of which are noted here. Go here for more information: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/images/?ImageID=4077

Stay tuned for more on discoveries by NASA’s new Martian robot…. !

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