On the surface, Mars presents itself as a world on the verge of inhospitality. Average temperatures that hover around negative 81 degrees. A thin, carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere sometimes rendered opaque by planet-wide dust storms that can even be seen from Earth. Gravity that’s just one-third of what humans have evolved to tolerate.
But the Red Planet’s features tell a different story.
Looking at photos captured by satellites in orbit, it doesn’t take much imagining to see Mars was likely once home to rivers of running water and enormous crater-lakes. With the right conditions, perhaps this planet that gets its rusty color from iron oxide-rich rocks could once have been suitable for life – or at least life as we know it.
This dichotomy has left experts asking one of the most difficult-to-answer questions in science today: What happened to Mars, and can the same thing happen here on Earth?
By the numbers: NASA’s Perseverance rover
- Length: 10 feet (17 feet with drill-arm extended)
- Width: 9 feet
- Height: 7 feet
- Weight: 2,260 pounds
- Top speed: 0.1 mph
- Power source: U.S. government-provided nuclear decay “battery”
- Distance traveled to Mars: 293 million miles
- Equipment: Cameras, radar sensors, “arm” with a drill, scientific analysis instruments, capsules to store samples, Ingenuity helicopter attached to “belly”
Timeline: Seven minutes of terror (all times Eastern on Feb. 18)
- 3:38 p.m.: Cruise stage separation
- 3:48 p.m.: Seven minutes of terror begin with atmospheric entry
- 3:49 p.m.: Moment of peak heating (2,400 degrees)
- 3:52 p.m.: 70-foot parachute deployment
- 3:52 p.m.: Heat shield separation (20 seconds after parachute)
- 3:54 p.m.: Perseverance separates from protective back shell and parachute
- 3:55 p.m.: Perseverance touchdown in Jezero Crater
Note: Visit floridatoday.com/space at 3 p.m. Thursday to watch live as Perseverance targets a landing on the Red Planet