Watching the Skies: NASA rover visits Mars, seeks signs of ancient life

Watching The Skies

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An exciting moment for space exploration will take place this week. NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover will land on the red planet on Thursday, provided all goes according to plan.

The goal of the Mars Perseverance rover is to decide if ancient life ever existed on the planet. It will do this by collecting rock and soil samples from the Jezero Crater.

Scientists believe there used to be a lake in the crater, which makes it a great place to search for signs of microbial life. Any soil and rock samples that the rover is able to collect will be taken back to Earth on a future mission.

Landing on Mars is extremely difficult. According to NASA, there is only about a 40% success rate on all the missions that any space agency has sent to Mars.

The total time from entry into Mars’ atmosphere to landing is about seven minutes. At entry, the spacecraft is moving at about 12,000 mph. It has to be slowed down to 2 mph in just those few minutes before being lowered to the surface by a large sky crane and cables.

Hundreds of variables make the landing extremely difficult, and the rover is completely on its own as it attempts the maneuver.

It takes about 11 minutes for the rover to send a signal back to Earth. This means that no one is sitting in a control room manipulating the situation as it unfolds. The rover has been designed to complete the landing without intervention, and the ultimate test of the design arrives on Feb. 18.

The landing is scheduled for 3:55 p.m. EST on Feb. 18. If you want to watch it, there will be a livestream on NASA’s website.

We won’t be able to see the rover land on Mars with our eyes, but we will be able to see the moon and Mars pair up this week.

The moon will be passing by Mars on the nights of Feb. 17, Feb. 18 and Feb. 19. Look to the southwest after dark to see the two. The Pleiades star cluster may be visible nearby as well.

Mars continues to get dimmer with each night but is still visible with the naked eye.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Know something newsworthy? Report It!

Weather Tools