Technology & Science

How to watch the Mars rover landing

Excitement among space enthusiasts is growing as NASA prepares to land its Mars Science Laboratory robot Curiosity on the red planet this weekend. We summarize some of the best ways to see the event.
An ellipse marks the spot within the Gale crater on Mars where the Curiosity rover is expected to land on Sunday night. Colour coding highlights differences in elevation, with blue indicating relatively low and tan relatively high. The vertical difference from a low point inside the landing area and a high point on the mountain inside the crater is about five kilometres. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Excitement among space enthusiasts is growing as NASA prepares to land its Mars Science Laboratory robot Curiosity on the red planet this weekend.

The rover is expected to touch down on Mars at 1:31 a.m. ET Monday, and NASA will begin its coverage of the event at 11:30 p.m. ET Sunday.

It will be streaming the landing live from mission control at the California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The official NASA stream will be available online in our embedded player below and on the following websites:

NASA TV also broadcasts on the satellite channel AMC-18C.

Xbox, Canadian Space Agency also streaming event

The Canadian Space Agency, which provided the rover's alpha particle X-ray spectrometer, one of several instruments that will help Curiosity probe the Mars surface, will be doing its own live webcast during the landing.

An artist's concept shows NASA's Curiosity rover suspended from the so-called descent stage as it prepares to land on the Martian surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech )

Other websites will be streaming rover-related content and hosting text and video chats online.

The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute will be hosting a Google+ hangout from NASA's Ames Research Centre near San Francisco.

Xbox 360 owners can stream the event and learn more about the Curiosity mission via a Mars rover section on the main console dashboard. They can also download a free Mars rover simulator game that allows players to try their hand at controlling the rover.

There are also a number of viewing parties going on around the world, including one at Times Square in New York and another at Hotel Ocho in Toronto. The latter begins with a kids program at 6 p.m. ET that will feature a somewhat less sophisticated rover built by students at York University. 

NASA scientist Michael Malin, left, talks to a reporter during tests with Scarecrow, a stand-in rover for Curiosity, on the Dumont Dunes in California's Mojave Desert in May. (NASA/JPL-Caltech )

See NASA's map of events.

Curiosity will, of course, be tweeting at @MarsCuriosity and posting status updates on Facebook during the landing.

NASA started the social buzz about the Curiosity landing on Friday at a series of NASA "socials", held at several space centres in the U.S. At these gatherings, those enthusiasts who engage with the agency through Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other social networks had a chance to meet NASA staff in person and discuss the mission.

Best images will come later in mission

The actual images that viewers will see during the landing will not be as impressive as those NASA hopes the rover will eventually beam back to Earth once all of its cameras are deployed.

Curiosity has 17 cameras, but only the eight hazard avoidance cameras at the bottom front and rear will be deployed during the landing. (NASA/JPL-Caltech )

The $2.5 billion US rover is outfitted with 17 cameras, but only its eight hazard avoidance cameras will be active during the landing.

The most impressive camera equipment, including two colour cameras mounted on the rover's mast, one of which has a 100 mm lens that can distinguish details as fine as the wording on a penny on the ground beside the rover, won't be put into action until the mission is underway later next week.

It's also possible that an image of the landing will be snapped by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been studying Mars since 2006.

[IMAGEGALLERY galleryid=2863 size=small]

The orbiter will attempt to train its High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on Curiosity's descent path just as it deploys its parachute. 

In 2008, the orbiter managed to capture just such a shot shortly after the Phoenix lander unfurled its parachute and descended to the Mars surface.

In the meantime, Mars buffs can browse some of the many images the two exploration rovers that are already on Mars — Spirit and Opportunity — have taken in their eight years on the planet, including a recently released panorama of the four-billion-year-old Endeavour crater and its surroundings.