The Mars Perseverance rover is landing on the Red Planet today, after travelling through space for over six months – and British Columbians can watch it happen live Thursday.
The rover will land in a crater identified as the place most likely to hold evidence of ancient life on Mars, at around 12:55 p.m. PST.
The Jezero Crater was a lake some 3.5 billion years ago, according to researchers. At its edge, scientists have identified a bathtub-ring-like structure they think will contain mineral deposits. NASA is calling the spot a “prime scientific hunting ground.”
The SUV-sized rover is equipped with an advanced camera system that will send images back to earth, and other instruments with names like PIXL and SHERLOC that will analyze chemical compositions, map mineral structures and measure atmosphere conditions.
Part of the Mars 2020 mission is scientific exploration for signs of ancient life, but the Perseverance is also testing new technology that could have major implications for future human exploration of Mars.
An instrument called MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) will try to make oxygen out of Martian carbon dioxide. If successful, it could be used by astronauts to burn rocket fuel to return to Earth.
February 2021 is rush hour on Mars – which is when its orbit is at the closest to Earth – making it the most efficient time to enter. The United Arab Emirates and China both have rovers ready to enter Martian atmosphere.