Clouds or dust storms on Mars won't spoil the Perseverance rover's big landing today (Feb. 18), NASA scientists said.
After a seven-month trek from Earth to Mars, Perseverance is preparing for the most dangerous part of its mission: plunging through the thin Martian atmosphere without slamming into the surface of the Red Planet. Fortunately, scientists on the mission think that the weather shouldn't interfere with that perilous process.
"The weather conditions look pretty favorable for us right now," Allen Chen, who leads the team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California for Perseverance's entry, descent and landing, said during a virtual news conference held Wednesday. "There are some clouds that are out there and some polar cap edge storms, but nothing near our Jezero landing site," Chen said, referring to the crater where Perseverance will land.
You can watch the Mars landing live here and on Space.com's homepage, courtesy of NASA, beginning at 2:15 p.m. EST (1915 GMT). The landing is expected at 3:55 p.m. EST (2055 GMT).
Related: How to watch NASA's Perseverance rover land on Mars
Live updates: NASA's Perseverance Mars rover mission
The mission's landing site at Jezero Crater is located about 18 degrees into the Red Planet's northern hemisphere, which entered its spring season on Feb. 7. "We just entered spring in the northern hemisphere, which is actually the beginning of the Martian new year," Chen said. "So I guess a happy belated Martian New Year to those of you who celebrate!" Unlike Earth's seasons, Mars' are uneven, with the northern spring lasting the longest.
Perseverance is one of a trio of missions that arrived at Mars this month; another mission, the United Arab Emirates' Hope orbiter, released a spectacular image the spacecraft took on Feb. 10 showing off wispy clouds in the planet's atmosphere. (Coincidentally, once that spacecraft settles into its stay at Mars, it will focus on studying the Red Planet's weather and the interactions between the layers of the atmosphere.)
However, Jezero Crater isn't visible in that image, which captures the more dramatic northern hemisphere landmarks of massive mountain Olympus Mons and canyon Valles Marineris, plus the three large mountains sprinkled between the two. Jezero is on the opposite side of Mars from these features.
Perseverance rover's Mars landing: Everything you need to know
And it's a good thing that the weather seems to be cooperating with Perseverance, since NASA can't delay the rover's landing. The mission team had targeted today's precise landing time even before the spacecraft blasted off Earth in July.
Fortunately, NASA has done this before. Perseverance will be using an upgraded version of the same landing equipment that the Curiosity rover, the heart of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, used in 2012, and scientists could use that experience to build confidence in how Perseverance's landing today will play out.
But that landing did alert scientists to a phenomenon they want to study during today's repeat performance, NASA personnel said during the same pre-landing news conference.
"MSL's path was affected by winds in the seconds before the parachute deployed, and so we'd like to learn more about that this time around," Kaitlin Liles, deputy chief engineer at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia for the sensor suite monitoring Perseverance's landing process, said. "What's the impact of wind on the vehicle's trajectory?"
The new analysis of Perseverance's landing can then inform future Red Planet arrivals.
Of course, despite the cooperative weather, Perseverance will still face a challenging descent today. "Even with clear skies, landing is the most critical and dangerous part of the mission," Chen said. "We just can't guarantee success."
Visit Space.com today for complete coverage of the Perseverance Mars rover's landing on the Red Planet.
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