Prof. Brian Greene Shows You How to Time Travel!

Prof. Brian Greene, author of “The Elegant Universe” will show you the right way to time travel as he joins Faith in a discussion of the underlying science of time travel and clears up some time travel myths like, is it ok to interact with your younger self while time traveling? (Turns out, it’s OKAY.)

Acclaimed physicist Brian Greene reveals a mind-boggling reality beneath the surface of our everyday world.

“The Fabric of the Cosmos,” a four-hour series based on the book by renowned physicist and author Brian Greene, takes us to the frontiers of physics to see how scientists are piecing together the most complete picture yet of space, time, and the universe. With each step, audiences will discover that just beneath the surface of our everyday experience lies a world we’d hardly recognize—a startling world far stranger and more wondrous than anyone expected.

Brian Greene is going to let you in on a secret: We’ve all been deceived. Our perceptions of time and space have led us astray. Much of what we thought we knew about our universe—that the past has already happened and the future is yet to be, that space is just an empty void, that our universe is the only universe that exists—just might be wrong.

Interweaving provocative theories, experiments, and stories with crystal-clear explanations and imaginative metaphors like those that defined the groundbreaking and highly acclaimed series “The Elegant Universe,” “The Fabric of the Cosmos” aims to be the most compelling, visual, and comprehensive picture of modern physics ever seen on television.

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/series/the-fabric-of-the-cosmos/

Did a 2036 Time Traveller really come back for this old IBM? | John Titor

A person named “John Titor” started posting on the Internet one day, claiming to be from the future and predicting the end of the world. Then he suddenly disappeared, never to be heard from again.

(PHOTO THEDREAMSKY/FLICKR)
(PHOTO THEDREAMSKY/FLICKR)

This is our planet’s bleak future: a second Civil War splinters America into five factions, leaving the new capital based in Omaha. World War III breaks out in 2015, starting with Russia and the U.S. trading nukes and ending with three billion dead. Then, to top it all off, a computer bug delivers where Y2K sputtered, destroying our world as we know it. That is, unless an audacious time traveler successfully traverses the space-time continuum to change the course of future history.

In late 2000, that person signed onto the Internet.

A poster going by the screennames “TimeTravel_0” and “John Titor” on a variety of message boards, beginning with the forum at the Time Travel Institute, claimed he was a soldier sent from 2036, the year the computer virus wiped the world. His mission was to head back to 1975 in order to snatch-and-grab an IBM 5100 computer, which had the necessary equipment to fight the future virus. (His detour to the year 2000 was simply to get a little R&R while visiting his three-year-old self, ignoring every fabric-of-time paradox rule from time-travel stories.) Over the next four months, Titor responded to every question other posters had, describing future events in poetically-phrased ways, always submitted with a general disclaimer that alternate realities do exist, so his reality may not be our own. In between dire urgings to learn first aid and stop eating beef—Mad Cow was a serious threat in his reality—Titor provided a number of technical specs regarding how time travel worked, with overly complex algorithms and grainy, hard-to-make-out photos of his actual machine. (Which, yes, of course, was an automobile: a 1987 Chevy Suburban.) He even showed off his cool futuristic military insignia.

On March 24, 2001, Titor offered his final piece of advice (“Bring a gas can with you when the car dies on the side of the road”), signed off forever, and returned home. He was never heard from again.

TODAY, EVERYTHING POSTED ONLINE GETS A HEALTHY DOSE OF SKEPTICISM. LET’S CALL IT THE POST-SNOPES ERA. WE’VE BEEN CONDITIONED TO SUSPECT EVERYTHING.

IN 2003, TITOR FAN Oliver Williams—some may want to put “fan” in quotation marks, simply because of the numerous unsubstantiated theories that Williams himself is/was Titor—launched JohnTitor.com, which tracks Titor’s predictions and offers a compendium of all of his 151 posts. In 2004, members of George Mason University threw together a multimedia rock opera based on Titor. A summary of the tale at io9.com garnered over 103,000 hits in 2011. And, according to IMDB, a feature-length film about Titor is in the pipeline. What seemingly should have been dismissed as a four-month hoax, the work of some nerd killing time at his boring temp job, somehow turned into a phenomenon.

Since the beginning of the mysterious posts, Art Bell’s popular late-night radio program “Coast to Coast AM,” a nationally-syndicated show that covers pretty much everything that’d fit comfortably into an episode of The X-Files, has been the go-to place for all things Titor. George Noory, who replaced Bell in 2003, has continued carrying the torch, devoting entire episodes to the ongoing mystery, fielding inane questions from callers and somehow answering with a straight face. (Examples: “Is there any way that Titor could be a godsend, sent as an angel, to warn us?” and “Do you think there’s any possibility he was a space alien? I’ll hang up and listen.”) In 2006, a lawyer named Lawrence Haber, who claimed to represent Kay Titor, a woman alleging to be John’s mother, contacted Noory. An interview followed between Noory and Kay—with Haber acting as a phone go-between—and it ended up answering, well, pretty much nothing at all.

After that episode, the show intermittently tracked Titor’s proposed timeline, looking at current events like tea leaves, possible harbingers of a nuclear armageddon. But as the false predictions piled up—while many of Titor’s descriptions are vague enough to be considered “not yet disproved,” he did also claim there would be no Olympic Games after 2004—the search for Titor shifted from “Is this real?” to “Who deceived us?”

IN 2003, THE JOHN Titor Foundation, a for-profit Limited Liability Corporation, self-published John Titor: A Time Traveler’s Tale, which is essentially a bound copy of the message board posts. (Used copies of this are currently going for $130 a pop on Amazon.) The Italian investigative TV show Voyager took up the case in 2008, hiring a private eye to locate the folks behind the LLC, and a search led back to the aforementioned Lawrence Haber, who was listed as the company’s CEO. An investigation by amateur sleuth John Hughston, who also goes by the name “Razimus,” uncovered a mysterious P.O. Box in Celebration, Florida, belonging to the LLC. A group of friends with some downtime between gigs at their production company checked out the P.O. Box themselves but found nothing worthwhile. At some point, JohnTitorFoundation.com was created, offering some kind of nonsensical secret code to digital passersby. And just a week ago, Hughston released another video—this one 40 minutes long—in which he names Haber’s brother, Morey, as his prime suspect by using a side-by-side analysis of phrase-usage, which, to be kind, is not exactly a slam dunk.

(Weirder side note: In 2004, a computer engineer named Marlin Pohlman filed a patent for a time travel machine that “back-engineered” concepts in the Titor posts. This started another round of speculation that Pohlman, himself, was the original Titor poster. Last March, he was arrested for drugging and sexually assaulting four women.)

The search for Titor, then, has become more convoluted than Oliver Stone taking on the 9/11 conspiracy. A new piece of information comes out, a tech-savvy kid with some time to kill sees it, decides to give the puzzle a shot, and on and on it goes, the cycle never reaching an end. The trail burns hot, the trail goes cold, but the trail never disappears. There have been countless blog posts and armchair investigations—a Google search for “John Titor solution” bounces back with 325,000 results—but nothing’s come close to finding a worthwhile solution. An itch in the back of the throat remains, unscratched.

But why?

THE TITOR LEGEND PERSISTS BECAUSE NO ONE EVER CLAIMED TO BE BEHIND IT. NOW THAT WE WON’T BE FOOLED, WE NEED AN ANSWER. IT’S THE ZEIGARNIK EFFECT; WHEN SOMETHING’S NOT WRAPPED UP, IT PREOCCUPIES OUR MEMORY.

American Airlines not denying possible UFO spotting, says: ‘Talk to the FBI’

Pilot said it “looked like a cruise missile type of thing”

Pilot described ‘long cylindrical object’ moving over the top of the plane, according to radio transmission

An American Airlines passenger jet traveling from Cincinnati to Phoenix encountered an apparent UFO over northeastern New Mexico Sunday afternoon. 

The pilot on flight 2292 radioed around 1:00 p.m. CST and said that the unidentified object was flying right on top of them, according to a transmission recorded by Steve Douglass on his blog, Deep Black Horizon. American Airlines verified to Fox News that the transmission is from flight 2292.

“Do you have any targets up here? We just had something go right over the top of us,” the pilot said in the radio transmission. 

“I hate to say this but it looked like a long cylindrical object that almost looked like a cruise missile type of thing moving really fast. It went right over the top of us.”

American Airlines confirmed that the radio transmission is authentic, but did not give any further comment on the possible alien encounter. 

“Following a debrief with our Flight Crew and additional information received, we can confirm this radio transmission was from American Airlines Flight 2292 on Feb. 21,” an American Airlines spokesperson told Fox News in a statement. “For any additional questions on this, we encourage you to reach out to the FBI.”

The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. 

Flight 2292 was around 37,000 feet at the time of the sighting, and Albuquerque Center did not respond because local air traffic interfered, according to Douglass. The flight went on to land in Phoenix, Arizona. 

New Mexico is home to White Sands Missile Range, which is located in the southern part of the state and is described as the Department of Defense’s “largest, fully-instrumented, open air range.” 

Scott Stearns, the chief of public affairs at White Sands Missile Range, said the range was not testing anything on Sunday and also noted the distance between the missile range and northeastern New Mexico, which is about 400 miles. 

“We have no idea what it could have been or if anything similar has been sighted in that area before,” Stearns said in a statement to Fox News. 

Thousands of UFO sightings are reported each year, but encounters by pilots have received increased attention recently. 

In February 2018, two pilots separately encounter an object beaming light at roughly 50,000 feet in eastern Arizona, the Arizona Republic reported

Between 2014 and 2015, Navy pilots encountered numerous UFOs traveling at hypersonic speeds up to 30,000 feet in the air, the New York Times reported

China’s Mars craft enters parking orbit before landing rover

China says its Tianwen-1 spacecraft has entered a temporary parking orbit around Mars in anticipation of landing a rover on the red planet in the coming months.

FILE - This file image made available by the China National Space Administration on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, shows the Tianwen-1 probe en route to Mars. China said on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, that its Tianwen-1 spacecraft has entered a temporary pa
Image IconThe Associated PressFILE – This file image made available by the China National Space Administration on Wednesday…Read More

BEIJING — China says its Tianwen-1 spacecraft has entered a temporary parking orbit around Mars in anticipation of landing a rover on the red planet in the coming months.

That follows the landing of the U.S. Perseverance rover last Thursday near an ancient river delta in Jezero Crater to search for signs of ancient microscopic life.

A successful bid to land Tianwen-1 would make China only the second country after the U.S. to place a spacecraft on Mars. China’s solar-powered vehicle, about the size of a golf cart, will collect data on underground water and look for evidence that the planet may have once harbored microscopic life.

Tianwen, the title of an ancient poem, means “Quest for Heavenly Truth.”

Landing a spacecraft on Mars is notoriously tricky. About a dozen orbiters missed the mark. In 2011, a Mars-bound Chinese orbiter that was part of a Russian mission didn’t make it out of Earth orbit.

China’s attempt will involve a parachute, rocket firings and airbags. Its proposed landing site is a vast, rock-strewn plain called Utopia Planitia, where the U.S. Viking 2 lander touched down in 1976.

Tianwen-1’s arrival at Mars on Feb. 10 was preceded by that of an orbiter from the United Arab Emirates. All three of the latest missions were launched in July to take advantage of the close alignment between Earth and Mars that happens only once every two years.

Tianwen-1 represents the most ambitious mission yet for China’s secretive, military-linked space program that first put an astronaut in orbit around Earth in 2003 and last year brought moon rocks back to Earth for the first time since the 1970s. China was also the first country to land a spacecraft on the little-explored far side of the moon in 2019.

China is also building a permanent space station and planning a crewed lunar mission and a possible permanent research base on the moon, though no dates have yet been proposed.

On Monday, a massive Long March-5B Y2 rocket was moved into place at the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan province for assembly and testing before it launches the space station’s core module, christened Tianhe. Launch is scheduled for the first half of this year, the first of 11 missions slated over the next two years for the station’s construction.

China is not a participant in the International Space Station, partly at the insistence of the United States.

The space program is a source of enormous national pride in China and Tianwen-1 has attracted a particularly strong following among the public. Tourists flocked to tropical Hainan island to watch the launch, while others visit mock Mars colonies in desert sites with white domes, airlocks and spacesuits.

The Hope Spacecraft reaches Mars! Overview of the Emirates Mars Mission

What is the Hope Spacecraft? How did it enter orbit around the Red planet? What will it study at Mars? In this video, we discuss the Emirates Mars Mission. Also names Al-amal, or Hope spacecraft, this is a Mars orbiter that is run by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) space agency.

The original idea for the mission came about in 2013, and launched from Japan in 2020. The spacecraft will study Mars’ global climate, looking at weather patterns and how the different layers of the atmosphere interact with one another. The Hope spacecraft is also the first interplanetary mission from an Arab nation. In addition to the specifications of the spacecraft, the video also looks into the orbit that Hope will be in as it monitors Mars. In addition, we talk about why it is hard for a spacecraft to enter orbit around another planet.

More specifically, we look at the Escape Velocity for a planet. On February 9th, 2020, the Hope spacecraft successfully entered orbit about Mars by performing a Mars Orbit injection maneuver, which slowed the spacecraft.

NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover Provides Front-Row Seat to Landing, First Audio Recording of Red Planet

New video from NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover chronicles major milestones during the final minutes of its entry, descent, and landing (EDL) on the Red Planet on Feb. 18 as the spacecraft plummeted, parachuted, and rocketed toward the surface of Mars. A microphone on the rover also has provided the first audio recording of sounds from Mars.

From the moment of parachute inflation, the camera system covers the entirety of the descent process, showing some of the rover’s intense ride to Mars’ Jezero Crater. The footage from high-definition cameras aboard the spacecraft starts 7 miles (11 kilometers) above the surface, showing the supersonic deployment of the most massive parachute ever sent to another world, and ends with the rover’s touchdown in the crater.

A microphone attached to the rover did not collect usable data during the descent, but the commercial off-the-shelf device survived the highly dynamic descent to the surface and obtained sounds from Jezero Crater on Feb. 20. About 10 seconds into the 60-second recording, a Martian breeze is audible for a few seconds, as are mechanical sounds of the rover operating on the surface.

“For those who wonder how you land on Mars – or why it is so difficult – or how cool it would be to do so – you need look no further,” said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “Perseverance is just getting started, and already has provided some of the most iconic visuals in space exploration history. It reinforces the remarkable level of engineering and precision that is required to build and fly a vehicle to the Red Planet.” NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance mission captured thrilling footage of its rover landing in Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021. The real footage in this video was captured by several cameras that are part of the rover’s entry, descent, and landing suite. The views include a camera looking down from the spacecraft’s descent stage (a kind of rocket-powered jet pack that helps fly the rover to its landing site), a camera on the rover looking up at the descent stage, a camera on the top of the aeroshell (a capsule protecting the rover) looking up at that parachute, and a camera on the bottom of the rover looking down at the Martian surface. The audio embedded in the video comes from the mission control call-outs during entry, descent, and landing.Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Also released Monday was the mission’s first panorama of the rover’s landing location, taken by the two Navigation Cameras located on its mast. The six-wheeled robotic astrobiologist, the fifth rover the agency has landed on Mars, currently is undergoing an extensive checkout of all its systems and instruments.

“This video of Perseverance’s descent is the closest you can get to landing on Mars without putting on a pressure suit,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science. “It should become mandatory viewing for young women and men who not only want to explore other worlds and build the spacecraft that will take them there, but also want to be part of the diverse teams achieving all the audacious goals in our future.”

The world’s most intimate view of a Mars landing begins about 230 seconds after the spacecraft entered the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere at 12,500 mph (20,100 kph). The video opens in black, with the camera lens still covered within the parachute compartment. Within less than a second, the spacecraft’s parachute deploys and transforms from a compressed 18-by-26 inch (46-by-66 centimeter) cylinder of nylon, Technora, and Kevlar into a fully inflated 70.5-foot-wide (21.5-meter-wide) canopy – the largest ever sent to Mars. The tens of thousands of pounds of force that the parachute generates in such a short period stresses both the parachute and the vehicle.

“Now we finally have a front-row view to what we call ‘the seven minutes of terror’ while landing on Mars,” said Michael Watkins, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which manages the mission for the agency. “From the explosive opening of the parachute to the landing rockets’ plume sending dust and debris flying at touchdown, it’s absolutely awe-inspiring.”

The video also captures the heat shield dropping away after protecting Perseverance from scorching temperatures during its entry into the Martian atmosphere. The downward view from the rover sways gently like a pendulum as the descent stage, with Perseverance attached, hangs from the back shell and parachute. The Martian landscape quickly pitches as the descent stage – the rover’s free-flying “jetpack,” which decelerates using rocket engines and then lowers the rover on cables to the surface – breaks free, its eight thrusters engaging to put distance between it and the now-discarded back shell and the parachute.

Then, 80 seconds and 7,000 feet (2,130 meters) later, the cameras capture the descent stage performing the sky crane maneuver over the landing site – the plume of its rocket engines kicking up dust and small rocks that have likely been in place for billions of years. 

“We put the EDL camera system onto the spacecraft not only for the opportunity to gain a better understanding of our spacecraft’s performance during entry, descent, and landing, but also because we wanted to take the public along for the ride of a lifetime – landing on the surface of Mars,” said Dave Gruel, lead engineer for Mars 2020 Perseverance’s EDL camera and microphone subsystem at JPL. “We know the public is fascinated with Mars exploration, so we added the EDL Cam microphone to the vehicle because we hoped it could enhance the experience, especially for visually-impaired space fans, and engage and inspire people around the world.”

The footage ends with Perseverance’s aluminum wheels making contact with the surface at 1.61 mph (2.6 kph), and then pyrotechnically fired blades sever the cables connecting it to the still-hovering descent stage. The descent stage then climbs and accelerates away in the preplanned flyaway maneuver.

“If this were an old Western movie, I’d say the descent stage was our hero riding slowly into the setting Sun, but the heroes are actually back here on Earth,” said Matt Wallace, Mars 2020 Perseverance deputy project manager at JPL. “I’ve been waiting 25 years for the opportunity to see a spacecraft land on Mars. It was worth the wait. Being able to share this with the world is a great moment for our team.”

Five commercial off-the-shelf cameras located on three different spacecraft components collected the imagery. Two cameras on the back shell, which encapsulated the rover on its journey, took pictures of the parachute inflating. A camera on the descent stage provided a downward view – including the top of the rover – while two on the rover chassis offered both upward and downward perspectives.

The rover team continues its initial inspection of Perseverance’s systems and its immediate surroundings. Monday, the team will check out five of the rover’s seven instruments and take the first weather observations with the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer instrument. In the coming days, a 360-degree panorama of Jezero by the Mastcam-Z should be transmitted down, providing the highest resolution look at the road ahead.

More About the Mission

A key objective of Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith.

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.

For more about Perseverance:

https://www.nasa.gov/perseverance

and

https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020

For more information about NASA’s Mars missions, go to:

https://www.nasa.gov/mars

To see more images from today’s news release, go to:

https://www.nasa.gov/content/images-from-the-perseverance-mars-rover-feb-22-2021-press-briefing

To see images as they come down from the rover and vote on the favorite of the week, go to:

https://go.nasa.gov/perseverance-raw-images

SCIENTISTS DETECT “RINGING” IN THE EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE

OUR PLANET’S ATMOSPHERE IS RINGING JUST LIKE A BELL.

Air Bell

According to a new study by an international team of researchers, the Earth’s entire atmosphere vibrates much like a ringing bell — a low-pitched fundamental tone alongside higher-pitched “overtones.”

The discovery could help scientists better predict weather patterns and understand the makeup of our atmosphere.

“This finally resolves a longstanding and classic issue in atmospheric science, but it also opens a new avenue of research to understand both the processes that excite the waves and the processes that act to damp the waves,” co-author Kevin Hamilton, a professor at the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawaii, said in a statement.

Atmo Reso

The atmospheric resonances were first proposed at the beginning of the 19th century by French physicist Pierre-Simon Laplace, whose dynamic theory of ocean tides has since allowed scientists to predict deformations in a planet’s atmosphere.

The tones, according to Hamilton and his collaborators, are created by massive pressure waves that travel around the globe. Each wave corresponds to each of these different resonant frequencies.

“Our identification of so many modes in real data shows that the atmosphere is indeed ringing like a bell,” Hamilton said.

Wave Modes

The new study includes a detailed analysis of pressure observations spanning 38 years. The researchers found dozens of separate waves circling the Earth in a checkerboard pattern.

“For these rapidly moving wave modes, our observed frequencies and global patterns match those theoretically predicted very well,” lead author Takatoshi Sakazaki, assistant professor at the Kyoto University Graduate School of Science, said in the statement. “It is exciting to see the vision of Laplace and other pioneering physicists so completely validated after two centuries.”

Mars Madness: A closer look at Jezero Crater, Perseverance’s landing site

Jezero Crater once could have been a prime location for martian microbial mats. And Perseverance aims to find out if any Martian fossils were left behind.

Jezero Crater

Mars’ Jezero Crater was once home to a river delta. That history, and the potential for finding signs of ancient alien life, pushed NASA to pick Jezero as the landing site for its Perseverance rover.NASA/JPL-CaltechBillions of years ago, an enormous space rock struck Mars and excavated a 750-mile-wide (1,200 kilometers) crater now called the Isidis impact basin. But the cosmos wasn’t done yet. Another smaller strike inside the basin later produced an embedded crater that’s since been dubbed Jezero Crater. The overlapping pair of impacts uniquely changed the rocks in the region, helping to create a special landscape that scientists think may have once been friendly to life. 

In just a few short weeks, NASA’s Perseverance rover will begin to survey the area “in person.” 

Jezero Crater: A varied landscape

Based on spacecraft imagery, researchers think Jezero Crater was once home to a lush river delta. Deltas form as rivers drop sediment into relatively placid, larger bodies of water — like lakes and oceans. And that process of deposition creates a number of varied environments.about:blankabout:blank

When Mars was still young and wet, and life was likely just taking hold on Earth, Jezero Crater was home to a 1,600-foot-deep (500 m) lake. Scientists think a network of rivers probably fed into this site, making it a prime place for life to have evolved on the Red Planet. 

And that’s why NASA chose to explore it. The idea of a persistent wetland on Mars was enough to convince astronomers to select Jezero Crater as the landing site for NASA’s Perseverance rover, as well as its companion the Ingenuity helicopter

Jezero Crater — named after the small town of Jezero, Bosnia — spans roughly 28 miles (45 kilometers), giving the rover plenty of room to roam. (More than a decade ago, the International Astronomical Union, the organization responsible for naming planetary bodies, decided to name a number of scientifically important Mars craters after small towns around Earth.)

Perseverance is a nearly car-sized rover that’s designed to characterize Mars’ geology and study its ancient climate. Along the way, it will hunt for signs of ancient alien life — specifically, microbial life — and collect soil and rock samples that will eventually be sent back to Earth for further study at world-class laboratories.  

And Jezero Crater provides the perfect place for Perseverance to pick up an array of promising samples.about:blankabout:blank

TRN_view1

NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover will land in this ancient river delta inside Jezero Crater.NASA/MSSS/USGS

A long path to landing at Jezero

In 1976, NASA’s twin Viking landers touched down on Mars within just a few months of each other. They didn’t have wheels to roam the surface, yet the missions still changed how astronomers looked at Mars. 

The Viking landers found clear signs of river valleys, wet weather, and erosion. Plus, a soil experiment on Viking even found tentative evidence of microbial life. Scientists later determined that was a false detection, but taken together, the Viking missions’ discoveries served to build excitement for better understanding Mars’ ancient climate. And that excitement help spur further exploration.

In the decades since, NASA has sent a handful of rovers to Mars to build on those findings. And each one has been more sophisticated than the last. 

The latest robotic roamer before Perseverance, NASA’s Curiosity rover, landed in 2012 with the goal if determining “if Mars was ever able to support microbial life.” The robot traversed more than a dozen miles within Gale Crater, a former lakebed, providing new insights into Mars’ ancient climate, current geology, and watery past. 

That’s helped whet astronomers’ appetites for exploring other ancient sites on Mars that once held water. So, in preparation for Perseverance’s trip, astronomers considered some 60 candidate landing sites over the course of several years. Different groups of researchers had their own ideas about which location was best, and the landing site debate was often contentious. But as it played out, it became increasingly clear Jezero Crater has once been a vast wetland. about:blankabout:blank

jezerocrater

Mars’ Jezero Crater is the future landing site for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover.NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL

A flowing river delta

In 2015, research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets showed that now-dry Jezero Crater was home to water twice in Mars’ past. 

The scientists used satellite observations to conduct what geologists call a “source to sink” analysis, where they trace a variety of minerals in the martian watershed back to their original source upstream. For example, clays, which form in the presence of water, seem to have been picked up from surrounding areas and dropped into the crater lake by flowing water. 

Interestingly, the team’s analysis showed the Jezero Crater served an active watershed during two separate time periods before the water dried up around 3.5 billion years ago, upping the chances of martian life once gaining a foothold. The water was likely so high at one point that it spilled over the crater walls. A number of papers since then have backed up those findings. 

Astronomers now envision Jezero Crater as a dynamic system, with water flowing both in and out over long periods of time in the past. NASA would love to sample the rocks at the center of the delta, where the water would’ve been the deepest. The muddy deposits there could preserve a record of organic matter, the way similar rocks do on Earth. And perhaps the most intriguing possibility is that Jezero Crater may have once been home to microbial mats, like pond scum forming at a lake’s edge. Certain minerals could’ve preserved that pond scum, forming what scientists call stromatolites — a kind of layered rock that’s essentially a fossil.

The Perseverance rover will keep a careful eye out for this kind of Mars fossil deposits. And — as it pokes, prods, and samples the soil — the rocks in Jezero Crater should offer new clues about whether life once existed in the early, wet days on Mars. 

US Military Shocking Alien Encounters In Iraq Revealed

Today we bring you insane declassified footage from the United States military and their crazy encounter with alien UFO’s in Iraq! You have to see this shocking video to come to your own conclusions, but there is obviously some unexplainable UFO in the skies and if the US military can’t identify it, maybe aliens are finally ready to make contact!

‘Touchdown confirmed!’ Perseverance landing marks new dawn for Mars science

A sky crane gently lowered Perseverance to a safe landing before crashing itself at a far remove. NASA/JPL-CALTECH

‘Touchdown confirmed!’ Perseverance landing marks new dawn for Mars science

It’s a new day on Mars. NASA’s $2.7 billion Perseverance rover has successfully landed in Jezero crater, alighting just 35 meters away from hazardous boulders it had identified during descent. At about 3:55 p.m. EST, confirmation came back of the rover safely touching its wheels down, resulting in exuberant but socially distanced applause from double-masked engineers at the mission’s control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

“Touchdown confirmed,” said Swati Mohan, the JPL engineer narrating the landing attempt. “Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars!” Soon after, a camera returned the first image, showing dust, rocks, and the shadow of the rover looming over the black-and-white martian surface.

The rover landed some 2 kilometers southeast of Jezero’s fossilized delta, locating a safe flat spot, tilting only 1.2°, amid a field of hazards (a map in the control room showed spots of safe green swarmed by dangerous red). “We did successfully find that parking lot, and have a safe rover on the ground,” said Allen Chen, the head of the rover’s landing team at JPL. The region is informally dubbed “Canyon de Chelly,” after a national monument in Navajo tribal lands.

The rover’s descent was as dramatic as it was choreographed. Plunging through the martian atmosphere while experiencing temperatures of up to 1300°C, the rover deployed a parachute as big as a basketball court as it approached its 7-kilometer-wide landing zone, the most precisely targeted of any NASA Mars lander. After identifying a safe haven free of dunes and boulders, the rover and its sky crane—a sort of rocket-propelled hovercraft—detached from the parachute.

The sky crane, falling at a walking pace, unspooled the rover to the surface with nylon cords. Finally, moments before touchdown, the rover deployed its six cleated aluminum wheels. The sky crane cut the cords and flew off to crash a safe distance away. The news, relayed by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter with an 11-minute delay, was greeted with cheers by those in JPL’s control room. Mars had a new martian.

The touchdown marks NASA’s ninth successful landing on the martian surface out of 10 tries. The Soviet Union is the first and only other nation to have performed the feat, in 1971, when its Mars 3 lander survived for 2 minutes. China, whose Tianwen-1 arrived at Mars a week ago, will attempt to put a rover and lander on the surface in several months.

Perseverance’s landing is likely to ensure additional attempts: NASA and the European Space Agency have begun to develop the two multibillion-dollar missions, which could launch in 2026 or 2028, needed to collect the samples gathered by Perseverance. If the samples make it to Earth a few years after that, researchers will analyze them for signs of life that could be preserved in fossilized microbial mats or, more likely, a lumpy distribution of organic molecules. Other minerals could capture the frozen imprint of the martian magnetic field as it failed, which allowed the ancient atmosphere—and, presumably, the warm climate—to escape to space.

Jezero crater is a great place to look for those clues: It holds a playground of habitable environments. Some 3.8 billion years ago, a thicker and warmer martian atmosphere allowed water to flow on the surface: One river penetrated Jezero, creating a delta of sediments and filling the crater nearly to the rim with water. Life could have found a niche in delta deposits, ancient shorelines, or hydrothermal springs exposed in the crater wall—all of which the rover should reach in its first 2 years of operation as it climbs up from the crater floor. It’s a “4-billion-year window into planetary evolution,” says Katie Stack Morgan, the mission’s deputy project scientist at JPL.

Perseverance’s first picture, taken through a transparent lens cap from underneath the rover, shows it avoided hazardous boulders. NASA/JPL-CALTECH

But first the rover rests. Today is Sol 0, as one martian day is called. Perseverance will sit still after the landing, peering through transparent dust covers on its cameras to assess its location and erecting its high-gain antenna, used for direct communication to Earth. And then it will take a nap, using its radioactive thermoelectric generator to recharge its batteries, says Jennifer Trosper, the mission’s deputy project manager at JPL. “The rover’s had a long day.”

Over the next few days, the rover will raise its mast 2 meters above the surface and its main cameras will fix on the Sun, orienting the rover. The team will begin to image the landing site and the rover itself, checking the health of its instruments. By early next week, any video or audio captured during the rover’s landing should be relayed to Earth, the first time any Mars landing has been captured in such detail.

Each martian sol is half an hour longer than 1 day on Earth. To maximize the robot’s operations during daylight hours, the rover team will operate on “Mars time” for the first few months. Eventually, that will cause team members to experience a sort of perpetual jet lag, with team members sleeping during the day and working at night. And, unlike the similar schedule used for Curiosity—Perseverance’s predecessor that landed in 2012—engineers and scientists will largely work from home because of social distancing guidelines. Trosper, a veteran of several rover missions, is ready for the upheaval to her schedule: “I finally purchased a sleep mask,” she says. (She already had earplugs.)

Over the next month, the rover will remain in a commissioning phase. Its five-jointed, 2-meter-long robotic arm, which carries the rover’s rotary-percussive coring drill and several of its most sensitive cameras, will be extended and put through “calisthenics.” And a second robotic arm—this one inside the rover’s gut and designed to manipulate its cache of 43 stored ultraclean sample tubes—will be run through its paces. Sometime after that, it will conduct a first 5-meter test drive.

Illustration of the Perseverance Rover decelerating into the Martian Atmosphere

The first order of business after the monthlong commissioning phase will be loosing the 1.8-kilogram Ingenuity helicopter, currently attached to the rover’s belly. The pint-size Ingenuity is a technology demonstration, a bid to fly a rotor-powered vehicle on another planet for the first time. Perseverance will drive to flat terrain and drop Ingenuity to the surface. The helicopter will then furiously spin its rotors to ascend in the thin martian air. Four additional flights could follow, with the copter expected to have a total of 30 days to demonstrate its chops. “It will be truly a Wright brothers moment, but on another planet,” says MiMi Aung, Ingenuity’s project manager at JPL.

After that, Perseverance’s science campaign, which includes an international team of 450 researchers, can begin in earnest. The rover will travel at a swift pace compared with Curiosity, capable of driving 200 meters per day thanks to improved automation and upgraded wheels. By the end of its 2-year primary mission, the team aims to collect at least 20 rock samples. The team has already scouted several possible routes, and the first drilling is likely to come this summer, says Ken Farley, the mission’s project scientist and a geologist at the California Institute of Technology.

The rover landed near a divide between two geological units on the lakebed targeted by the mission. One, the “mafic floor unit,” is potentially volcanic, believed to sit below the lakebed, marking an eruption that occurred before the water arrived. Such rocks contain trace radioactive elements that decay at a certain rate, so lab scientists on Earth could date the eruption and bracket the age of the lake.

The other rocks are rich in olivine and carbonate, potentially formed by ash deposited onto the crater after the water vanished. If the ash is also volcanic, those dates could constrain the lake’s demise. Put together, the two dates would tell a reliable story of the formation of the lake and delta and this wetter period in Mars’s history.

But the geology of each layer— inferred from orbit—is deeply uncertain, with scientists not even agreeing on the order in which they were deposited. That’s why, Farley says, the team is likely to target this boundary. “This is a great place to be because one of the things that scientists love to do is look to see how two different geologic units come together.”

After exploring that interface, the cliffs of Jezero’s fossilized delta will then loom; the fine-grained clay-bearing mudstones buried there would be a natural target. “The delta,” Farley says, “is what brought us to this location in the first place—a spectacular piece of geology.” On Earth, such clays blanket living things and preserve them as fossils. In similar clays at Gale crater, the Curiosity rover—which remains operational—detected traces of complex organic compounds that resembled kerogen, the feedstock of oil. But it could not determine whether the compounds were produced by ancient life or deposited by meteorites.

A new 7 minutes of terror: See the nail-biting Mars landing stages of NASA’s Perseverance rover in this video

There’s a rocket-powered sky crane involved.

NASA’s Perseverance rover is only a few days away from its daring seven-minute landing on Mars, where it will touch down on the most challenging terrain ever targeted by a Red Planet mission. 

On Feb. 18, the car-size Perseverance — the heart of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission — will attempt to land inside the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater. The entry, descent and landing (EDL) phase of a Mars mission is often referred to as “seven minutes of terror,” because the sequence is so harrowing and happens faster than radio signals can reach Earth from Mars. That means the spacecraft is on its own once it enters the Martian atmosphere — and a gripping new video from NASA shows how the rover will pull off such an amazing feat. 

“Space always has a way of throwing us curveballs and surprising us,” Swati Mohan, Mars 2020 guidance, navigation and control operations lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, says in the video. “There are many things that have to go right to get Perseverance on to the ground safely.”

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover landing: Everything you need to know

Diagram of the key steps in the Mars 2020 mission's entry, descent and landing sequence of Feb. 18, 2021.
A diagram of the key steps in the Mars 2020 mission’s entry, descent and landing sequence of Feb. 18, 2021. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The EDL phase begins when the spacecraft reaches the top of the Martian atmosphere and ends with a rocket-powered sky crane lowering Perseverance safely to the surface of the Red Planet. The entire EDL sequence takes roughly seven minutes, during which many crucial steps must take place. The stakes are very high on Thursday for Mars 2020, which will hunt for signs of ancient life and collect samples for humanity’s first interplanetary sample-return campaign

“There is a lot counting on this,” Al Chen of JPL, Mars 2020 entry, descent and landing lead, says in the video. “This is the first leg of our sample return relay race — there is a lot of work on the line.”

Shortly before reaching the Red Planet, Perseverance will shed its cruise stage, which helped fly the rover to Mars over the last 6.5 months. The next big milestone is atmospheric entry, when the rover will barrel into the Martian skies at about 12,100 mph (19,500 kph). 

The vehicle is equipped with a heat shield that will protect the rover from the intense heat generated during its initial descent and also help slow the spacecraft down. At about 7 miles (11 kilometers) above the surface, the spacecraft will deploy its 70.5-foot-wide (21.5 meters) supersonic parachute — the largest ever sent to another planet, according to the video. 

Soon after, the heat shield will separate and drop away from the spacecraft, exposing Perseverance to the Martian atmosphere for the first time and jumpstarting the vehicle’s Terrain-Relative Navigation system, which is a new autopilot technology that will help guide the rover to a safe landing on Mars. 

“Perseverance will be the first mission to use Terrain-Relative Navigation,” Mohan says in the video. “While it’s descending on the parachute, it will actually be taking images of the surface of Mars and determining where to go based on what it sees. This is finally like landing with your eyes open — having this new technology really allows Perseverance to land in much more challenging terrain than Curiosity, or any previous Mars mission, could.” 

Perseverance’s EDL sequence is very similar to that of NASA’s Curiosity rover, which landed in 2012. However, Perseverance is slightly bigger and equipped with more advanced scientific instruments, including new technology that will help guide the spacecraft through its difficult landing. 

Scientists believe an 820-foot-deep (250 m) lake filled Jezero Crater about 3.9 billion to 3.5 billion years ago. The area also has a prominent river delta, where water once flowed through and deposited lots of sediment. While this landing site offers geologically rich terrain, the rocks, craters and cliffs make it a very challenging place for Perseverance to land. 

“The science team identified Jezero Crater as basically an ancient lake bed and one of the most promising places to look for evidence of ancient microbial life, and to collect samples for future return to Earth,” JPL’s Matt Smith, flight director for Mars 2020 cruise operations, says in the video. “The problem is, it is a much more hazardous place to land.” 

During the final minute before Perseverance lands on the Red Planet, the mission’s sky-crane descent stage will fire up eight retrorockets, or Mars landing engines. Then, the sky crane will lower the rover safely to the ground on three nylon cables. Once the rover has made landfall, it will cut the cables connecting it to the descent stage, which will then fly off and crash-land safely away from Perseverance. 

“Surviving that seven minutes is really just the beginning for Perseverance,” Chen says in the video. “Its job — being the first leg of sample-return; to go look for those signs of past life on Mars — all that can’t start until we get Perseverance safely to the ground, and then that’s when the real mission begins.” 

Scientists Are Pretty Sure They Found a Portal to the Fifth Dimension

In a new study, scientists say they can explain dark matter by positing a particle that links to a fifth dimension.

Photo credit: Xuanyu Han - Getty Images
Photo credit: Xuanyu Han – Getty Images
  • Dark matter could be the result of fermions pushed into a warped fifth dimension.
  • This theory builds on an idea first stated in 1999, but is unique in its findings.
  • Dark matter makes up 75 percent of matter but has never been observed … yet.

While the “warped extra dimension” (WED) is a trademark of a popular physics model first introduced in 1999, this research, published in The European Physical Journal C, is the first to cohesively use the theory to explain the long-lasting dark matter problem within particle physics.

Our knowledge of the physical universe relies on the idea of dark matter, which takes up the vast majority of matter in the universe. Dark matter is a kind of pinch hitter that helps scientists explain how gravity works, because a lot of features would dissolve or fall apart without an “x factor” of dark matter. Even so, dark matter doesn’t disrupt the particles we do see and “feel,” meaning it must have other special properties as well.

“[T]here are still some questions which do not have an answer within the [standard model of physics],” the scientists, from Spain and Germany, explain in their study. “One of the most significant examples is the so-called hierarchy problem, the question why the Higgs boson is much lighter than the characteristic scale of gravity. [The standard model of physics] cannot accommodate some other observed phenomena. One of the most striking examples is the existence of dark matter.”

The new study seeks to explain the presence of dark matter using a WED model. The scientists studied fermion masses, which they believe could be communicated into the fifth dimension through portals, creating dark matter relics and “fermionic dark matter” within the fifth dimension.

Could dimension-traveling fermions explain at least some of the dark matter scientists have so far not been able to observe? “We know that there is no viable [dark matter] candidate in the [standard model of physics],” the scientists say, “so already this fact asks for the presence of new physics.”

Basically, a key piece of mathematics creates bulk masses of fermions that are manifested in the so-called fifth dimensional warped space. This pocket “dark sector” is one possible way to explain the huge amount of dark matter that, so far, has eluded detection using any traditional measurements designed for the standard model of physics. Fermions jammed through a portal to a warped fifth dimension could be “acting as” dark matter.

How would we observe this kind of dark matter in order to verify it? To date, this is the holdup on many different theories of dark matter. But all it would take to identify fermionic dark matter in a warped fifth dimension would be the right kind of gravitational wave detector, something growing in prevalence around the world. Indeed, the answer to the dark matter conundrum could be just around the corner.

British military’s space campaign picks up steam with ‘Skynet’ upgrade

The British military wants to replace its existing ground station for the Skynet program, pictured here, with new equipment. (Photo by Paul Bennett)

LONDON – Viasat is upgrading Skynet satellite communications capabilities to enable the British military to comply with the latest integrated waveform requirement known as IW Phase 2, the company said on Feb. 8.

The deal was signed in the second quarter of 2020 but the UK arm of the Carlsbad, California-based communications company has only now been able to announce that it is undertaking the upgrade to ultra-high-frequency satellite communications network control stations in the Skynet system.

The upgrade is one in a spate of military-related space announcements in the last few days, which have seen the Ministry of Defence name its first Space Command boss and Lockheed Martin tie up with a rocket supplier for its first vertical launch from a UK spaceport.

The satellite communications contract was awarded by Airbus Defence and Space, the current private finance initiative operator of the Skynet satellites and associated ground control stations.

Airbus operates a clutch of Skynet 4 and 5 satellites and is building another spacecraft known as Skynet 6A.

The Airbus deal to operate Skynet nears its end, and the winner of a competition to operate the ground control stations beyond 2022 is expected soon.

Viasat is supplying its visual integrated satellite communications information, operation and networking software platform, known as Vision, to meet the IW Phase2 requirement.

Britain and its allies are in the process of switching to the new integrated waveform software in order to retain interoperability with U.S. military upgrades.

Last August, Viasat announced it had successfully used Vision in the upgrade of NATO satellite control stations to comply with the new requirement.

Viasat is not a newcomer to Skynet’s supply chain. Airbus has been using earlier versions of the company’s integrated waveform technology in the system since 2012.

Officials hope the upgrade will enhance mission situation awareness and operational insights on the communication system.

Steve Beeching, Viasat UK’s managing director said the upgrade is key to expanding Skynet capabilities.

“With Vision, the network operators will gain more assured, reliable, real-time communications capabilities to reconfigure UHF satellite networks to meet new tactical profiles—as battlefield and warfighter requirements dynamically expand and contract,” Beeching said.

The improved capabilities come at a time of increasing focus on military space by the British. Last year the British government acquired a stake in failed satellite constellation operator OneWeb as part of a deal to revive the operation.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson signaled space as a sector to watch when he announced in a speech last November that the government was intending to raise defense spending by an extra £16.5 billion, or $23 billion, over four years.

In total the British say they are going to raise spending in the defense sector by £24.1 billion over the period.

Space budgets are likely to be a major beneficiary, although details will likely have to await publication of a government integrated review of defense, security, foreign policy and overseas develop policy targeted for the spring.

A defense white paper about defense equipment plans is expected immediately following the review.

Conventional weapon programs are expected to be victims of cuts to make room for investments in space, cyber and other new technologies.

Defense space activities continue to progress here even without spending plan details being public.

Last week the MoD named Air Commodore Paul Godfrey as the first commander of the new UK Space Command.

Godfrey, soon to be promoted to Air Vice-Marshal, is no stranger to the U.S. military. His previous position saw him responsible for the planning and employment of coalition air and space power across the Middle East within the U.S. Air Force Combined Air and Space Operations Center.

Based at RAF High Wycombe, Space Command will be a joint command, staffed from all three arms of the military, the civil service and industry. It brings together under a single two-star military commander: space operations, space workforce generation and space capabilities.

Some of those capabilities may be enhanced by an announcement Feb. 8 that Lockheed Martin UK has contracted ABL Space Systems to launch a rocket from the Shetland Space Centre being created on Britain’s most northerly island.

ABL’s new RS1 rocket is set to become the first ever vehicle to vertically launch small satellites from the UK.

If the Lockheed Martin-led work, known as the UK Pathfinder Launch program, goes to plan, lift-off of the rocket from the Shetland island of Unst is set for next year.

Once the RS1 is in orbit the rocket will release a small launch orbital maneuvering tug built by Reading, southern England-based Moog.

The tug can deploy up to six miniaturized cube satellites. Two of the cubesats deployed will be Lockheed Martin’s own technology demonstration spacecraft.

The RS1 is currently in the final stages of development and a maiden launch is planned for the second quarter of this year from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.21

Twitter lights up with UFO talk after light seen in Florida sky, turns out to be Navy missile

It’s not the first time a rocket or missile test has been mistaken for aliens

Navy fires trident-II SLBM missile test from a submarine off the coast of Florida

A strange light over the South Florida sky Tuesday evening had many residents bracing for extraterrestrial contact, but it turned out to be the Navy testing a missile. 

Floridians will be disappointed (or maybe relieved) to find out that it was just the Navy testing a Trident-II ballistic missile from a submarine. 

“This test was part of a scheduled, ongoing system evaluation test,” a Navy spokesperson told Fox News. “Launches are conducted on a frequent, recurring basis to ensure the continued reliability of the system. Each test activity provides valuable information about our systems, thus contributing to assurance in our capabilities.” 

The Navy doesn’t announce missile testing beforehand because the info is classified. 

The Federation of American Scientists explains that the Trident-II “is a three-stage, solid propellant, inertially guided FBM with a range of more than 4,000 nautical miles.”

It’s not the first time that a rocket or missile test was mistaken for aliens.

Elon Musk poked fun at the misunderstanding a few years ago when a rocket launched by SpaceX was widely mistaken for a UFO or, as he put it, a “Nuclear alien UFO from North Korea.”

Chinese spacecraft enters Mars’ orbit, joining Arab ship

US rover set to arrive next week amid unusual flurry of activity at ‘Red Planet’

BEIJING – A Chinese spacecraft went into orbit around Mars on Wednesday on an expedition to land a rover on the surface and scout for signs of ancient life, authorities announced in a landmark step in the country’s most ambitious deep-space mission yet.

The arrival of Tianwen-1 after a journey of seven months and nearly 300 million miles (475 million kilometers) is part of an unusual burst of activity at Mars: A spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates swung into orbit around the red planet on Tuesday, and a U.S. rover is set to arrive next week.

China’s space agency said the five-ton combination orbiter and rover fired its engine to reduce its speed, allowing it to be captured by Mars’ gravity.

“Entering orbit has been successful … making it our country’s first artificial Mars satellite,” the agency announced.

The mission is bold even for a space program that has racked up a steady stream of achievements and brought prestige to China’s ruling Communist Party.

In this undated photo released by the China National Space Administration, a view of the planet Mars is captured by China's Tianwen-1 Mars probe from a distance of 2.2 million kilometers (1.37 million miles). (CNSA/Xinhua via AP)

In this undated photo released by the China National Space Administration, a view of the planet Mars is captured by China’s Tianwen-1 Mars probe from a distance of 2.2 million kilometers (1.37 million miles). (CNSA/Xinhua via AP) ((CNSA/Xinhua via AP))

If all goes as planned, the rover will separate from the spacecraft in a few months and touch down safely on Mars, making China only the second nation to pull off such a feat. The rover, a solar-powered vehicle about the size of a golf cart, will collect data on underground water and look for evidence that the planet may have once harbored microscopic life.

Tianwen, the title of an ancient poem, means “Quest for Heavenly Truth.”

Landing a spacecraft on Mars is notoriously difficult. Smashed Russian and European spacecraft litter the landscape along with a failed U.S. lander. About a dozen orbiters missed the mark. In 2011, a Mars-bound Chinese orbiter that was part of a Russian mission didn’t make it out of Earth orbit.

Only the U.S. has successfully touched down on Mars — eight times, beginning with two Viking missions in the 1970s. An American lander and rover are in operation today.

China’s attempt will involve a parachute, rocket firings and airbags. Its proposed landing site is a vast, rock-strewn plain called Utopia Planitia, where the U.S. Viking 2 lander touched down in 1976.

Before the arrival this week of the Chinese spacecraft and the UAE’s orbiter, six other spacecraft were already operating around Mars: three U.S., two European and one Indian.

The world tallest tower, Burj Khalifa is lit up with a laser show to celebrate the Hope Probe entering Mars orbit as a part of the Emirates Mars mission, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. The spacecraft from the UAE swung into orbit around Mars in a triumph for the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission. It is the first of three robotic explorers arriving at the red planet over the next week and a half. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

The world tallest tower, Burj Khalifa is lit up with a laser show to celebrate the Hope Probe entering Mars orbit as a part of the Emirates Mars mission, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. The spacecraft from the UAE swung into orbit around Mars in a triumph for the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission. It is the first of three robotic explorers arriving at the red planet over the next week and a half. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

All three of the latest missions were launched in July to take advantage of the close alignment between Earth and Mars that happens only once every two years.

A NASA rover called Perseverance is aiming for a Feb. 18 landing. It, too, will search for signs of ancient microscopic life, collecting rocks that will be returned to Earth in about a decade.

China’s secretive, military-linked space program has racked up a series of achievements. In December, it brought moon rocks back to Earth for the first time since the 1970s. China was also the first country to land a spacecraft on the little-explored far side of the moon in 2019.

China is also building a permanent space station and planning a crewed lunar mission and a possible permanent research base on the moon, though no dates have yet been proposed.

While most contacts with NASA are blocked by Congress and China is not a participant in the International Space Station, it has increasingly cooperated with the European Space Agency and countries such as Argentina, France and Austria. Early on, China cooperated with the Soviet Union and then Russia.

NASA’s Mars rover is about to land in the perfect place to hunt for alien fossils: an ancient lake bed called Jezero Crater

  • NASA’s Perseverance rover is set to land Thursday in the dried-up Martian lake bed Jezero Crater.
  • It’s ideal for looking for alien fossils because a river deposited microbe-trapping minerals there.
  • Perseverance will search the lake bottom, shorelines, and river delta for signs of ancient microbes.

Billions of years ago, Mars was a water world with rivers and lakes. Microbes might have swum in those waters, leaving their imprints on an ancient Martian lake bed called Jezero Crater.

NASA is sending a rover there to hunt for such fossils. The $2.4 billion SUV-sized robot, called Perseverance, is set to land in Jezero Crater on Thursday.

More than 3.5 billion years ago, rivers spilled over the edge of the 28-mile-wide crater, keeping it filled with water. This alien body of water was about the size of Lake Tahoe. The rivers probably carried clay minerals into Lake Jezero, and if microbes lived in the water, they could have gotten trapped. That would mean that today, there may be distinct fossil rocks called stromatolites at the bottom of the lake bed, along what used to be the shoreline or in the dried-up river delta.

This makes Jezero Crater one of the best places in our solar system to search for evidence of alien life.

On Earth, the oldest signs of life are 3.5 billion-year-old stromatolites found in ancient shallow lake beds — exactly what Perseverance will look for on Mars.

jezero crater mars lake water illustration
An illustration of Jezero Crater as it may have looked billions of years go on Mars, when it was a lake. 

“This is a tantalizing similarity,” Ken Farley, the project scientist for Perseverance, said in a recent press briefing. “It would, of course, be a fabulous scientific discovery to find that life existed beyond Earth.”

Perseverance is designed to scour Jezero Crater, collect about 40 samples that could contain signs of ancient microbes, and cache them in special tubes so that a future mission can bring them to Earth.

NASA had considered the crater as a destination for previous missions, but its steep cliffs, sand dunes, and boulder fields make it a dangerous place for robots to land. Now new technologies equip Perseverance to take on the treacherous terrain.CME GroupLearn moreCME GroupLearn more

A journey from the lake bottom to the crater rim

NASA has carved out a roughly 15-mile route for Perseverance on Mars that takes advantage of the diversified landscape of Jezero Crater.

perseverance mars rover path nasa jezero crate
A route Perseverance could take across Jezero Crater. 

“This is a pathway that connects together all of the different habitable environments that we think existed within this lake and in its surroundings,” Farley said. “This is a long traverse. It’ll take many years for us to do this. The reason we do this, though, is that this will allow us to come up with the best possible set of samples to be brought back to Earth, to answer the major questions that we have about Mars and about life.”

Perseverance aims to land near the cliffs of the fan-shaped river delta — a deposit of mud and clay that the river left as it flowed into the lake.

jezero crater river delta mars perseverance rover landing site
The remains of an ancient delta at the edge of Jezero Crater, captured by the ESA’s Mars Express orbiter. 

The rover might land atop the delta’s cliffs, or it could first explore the muddy lake bottom for fossils and then climb to the delta. That depends on which spots its autonomous navigation system chooses for landing.

In the image below, the layer of green between the delta and the crater rim is where scientists think Lake Jezero’s shoreline was. It appears to be rich with carbonates: minerals that are especially good at trapping microbes to form stromatolites.

nasa mars 2020 rover landing site jezero crater
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured colorful spectral data showing clays and carbonates deposited across the Jezero Crater river delta. The green indicates carbonate minerals. 

If that’s the case, Perseverance could simply amble along the carbonate beaches of Lake Jezero, scanning for stromatolites.

The rover’s primary mission to look for signs of life lasts one Martian year (two Earth years). If the robot is still kicking when that’s over, its extended mission will involve climbing the 1,600-foot rim of the crater.

Jezero Crater was most likely originally created when an object (probably a meteorite) collided with Mars. The crash exposed rock layers deep within the planet’s crust. So at the crater rim, Perseverance aims to study these layers to learn more about Martian geology.

perseverance mars rover jezero crater
An illustration of Perseverance beneath the cliffs of Jezero Crater. 

The heat from that impact may have also given rise to hot springs, which would have deposited their own minerals that could also hold signs of aliens.

“That’s why we’re so excited about Jezero Crater, because it has so many different ways that it could preserve signs of life,” Briony Horgan, a geologist on the Perseverance science team, said in the briefing.

Even if Perseverance finds no fossils, that will be a major nonfinding. To date, every habitable environment on Earth that scientists have examined has hosted life.

“If we do a deep exploration of Jezero Crater with the rover and its instruments … and we find no evidence of life, we will have shown that in at least one place, there is a habitable environment that is not inhabited,” Farley said. “If that’s what we find, it would tell us something important: that habitability alone is not sufficient, that something else has to be present — some, perhaps, magic spark — that causes life to occur.”

Machines Are Inventing New Math We’ve Never Seen

Pushing the boundaries of math requires great minds to pose fascinating problems. What if a machine could do it? Now, scientists created one that can.

Machines Are Inventing New Math We've Never Seen

A good conjecture has something like a magnetic pull for the mind of a mathematician. At its best, a mathematical conjecture states something extremely profound in an extremely precise and succinct way, crying out for proof or disproof.

But posing a good conjecture is difficult. It must be deep enough to provoke curiosity and investigation, but not so obscure as to be impossible to glimpse in the first place. Many of the most famous problems in mathematics are conjectures, and not solutions, such as Fermat’s last theorem. 

Now, a group of researchers from the Technion in Israel and Google in Tel Aviv presented an automated conjecturing system that they call the Ramanujan Machine, named after the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, who developed thousands of innovative formulas in number theory with almost no formal training. The software system has already conjectured several original and important formulas for universal constants that show up in mathematics. The work was published last week in Nature

One of the formulas created by the Machine can be used to compute the value of a universal constant called Catalan’s number more efficiently than any previous human-discovered formulas. But the Ramanujan Machine is imagined not to take over mathematics, so much as provide a sort of feeding line for existing mathematicians. 

As the researchers explain in the paper, the entire discipline of mathematics can be broken down into two processes, crudely speaking: conjecturing things and proving things. Given more conjectures, there is more grist for the mill of the mathematical mind, more for mathematicians to prove and explain.

That’s not to say their system is unambitious. As the researchers put it, the Ramanujan Machine is “trying to replace the mathematical intuition of great mathematicians and providing leads to further mathematical research.”

The researchers’ system is not, however, a universal mathematics machine. Rather, it conjectures formulas for how to compute the value of specific numbers called universal constants. The most famous of such constants, pi, gives the ratio between a circle’s circumference and diameter. Pi can be called universal because it shows up all across mathematics, and constant because it maintains the same value for every circle, no matter the size.

In particular, the researchers’ system produces conjectures for the value of universal constants (like pi), written in terms of elegant formulas called continued fractions. Continued fractions are essentially fractions, but more dizzying. The denominator in a continued fraction includes a sum of two terms, the second of which is itself a fraction, whose denominator itself contains a fraction, and so on, out to infinity.

Continued fractions have long compelled mathematicians with their peculiar combination of simplicity and profundity, with the total value of the fraction often equalling important constants. In addition to being “intrinsically fascinating” for their aesthetics, they are also useful for determining the fundamental properties of the constants, as Robert Doughtery-Bliss and Doron Zeilberger of Rutgers University wrote in a preprint from 2020. 

The Ramanujan Machine is built off of two primary algorithms. These find continued fraction expressions that, with a high degree of confidence, seem to equal universal constants. That confidence is important, as otherwise, the conjectures would be easily discarded and provide little value. 

Each conjecture takes the form of an equation. The idea is that the quantity on the left side of the equals sign, a formula involving a universal constant, should be equal to the quantity on the right, a continued fraction. 

To get to these conjectures, the algorithm picks arbitrary universal constants for the left side and arbitrary continued fractions for the right, and then computes each side separately to a certain precision. If the two sides appear to align, the quantities are calculated to higher precision to make sure their alignment is not a coincidence of imprecision. Critically, formulas already exist to compute the value of universal constants like pi to an arbitrary precision, so that the only obstacle to verifying the sides match is computing time.

Prior to algorithms such as this, mathematicians would have needed to use existing mathematical knowledge and theorems to make such a conjecture. But with the automated conjectures, mathematicians may be able to use them to reverse engineer hidden theorems or more elegant results, as Doughtery-Bliss and Zeilberger have already shown.

But the researchers’ most notable discovery so far is not hidden knowledge, but a new conjecture of surprising importance. This conjecture allows for the computation of Catalan’s constant, a specialized universal constant whose value is needed for many mathematical problems. 

The continued fraction expression of the newly discovered conjecture allows for the most rapid computation yet of Catalan’s constant, beating out prior formulas, which took longer to crank through the computer. This appears to mark a new progress point for computing, somewhat like the first time that computers beat out the chessmasters; but this time, in the game of making conjectures.

E.T. could already be among us and we wouldn’t know, says NASA

Alien life may be so different from us that we wouldn’t even recognize it as life.

An axolotl

Axolotl (STEPHEN DALTON)

In Episode 146, late in the run of Star Trek — The Next Generation, its writers finally addressed an obvious issue with science fiction: How come no matter where we go out there, aliens look roughly like us? Obviously, the real answer is that they’re played by human actors, but science fiction has helped instill in us a prevalent bias toward expecting extraterrestrial beings to have arms, legs, heads, not to mention spines, skin, and so on. Little green men are still men, after all.

But even on earth, we don’t represent the norm. There are many more insects than there are humans, and in the oceans? Yipes. Consider giant tube worms.

Riftia (NOAA PHOTO LIBRARY)

Consider siphnophorae.

Physonect siphonophore (KEVIN RASKOFF)

Why on earth (sorry) should extraterrestrials look like us, or even be recognizable as living beings to our limited imaginations? How do we know they don’t already live among us, floating, slithering, flying nearby?

The director of NASA’s Astrobiology InstitutePenelope Boston, gave a keynote speech recently at the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Symposium.

“It’s not like you can walk into a new environment with your lovely robot on some other planet, look at the ground and go gosh it’s life! Instead it’s ‘gosh it’s blue something, and it’s got a copper signal, and I don’t know’ — and then you have to investigate.”https://b39eab230ecb625036c784370573854b.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Boston showed the crowd her own rogue’s gallery of omigosh-is-that-alive earthly creatures found in caves.

Gelatinous Glop and pals (PENELOPE BOSTON)

Boston frames this as the great challenge of astrobiology: Simply being able to recognize life when we see it. Our genetic tools fall short when it comes to examining unknown forms, and with her feeling that off-world life may be weird and microbial, we’ll be essentially clueless about who we’re meeting.

It’s not like we can confidently ascertain life-supporting conditions with our limited knowledge. In harsh environments around the globe, we find living creatures where our current understanding tells us there can’t be.

The astrobiologist ended her talk with he warning that we’d better come up with the technology to recognize life in whatever form it appears before we actually meet up with aliens. If we haven’t already.

Astrobiology’s Biggest Stories of 2020

A lot has been achieved, even in an awful year.

tianwen.jpg
With Chang’e-5 having just returned samples from the moon, China’s next extraterrestrial landing (by Tianwen 1, shown in an artist’s conception) will be on Mars in February 2021. (Xinhua)

The year 2020 was a difficult one for most everyone on the planet—what were the biggest stories related to the search for life beyond Earth? It seems fitting that we start with a loss—of the Arecibo Telescope in Puerto Rico.

The 305-meter-wide radio telescope, which opened for business in 1963, experienced a catastrophic failure when two supporting cables broke—one in August and another in November. The suspended instrument platform fell and crashed into the giant dish on December 1. Arecibo was the world’s largest telescope for decades, and was used for many studies, many of them ground-breaking. These included discovery of the first exoplanet (orbiting the pulsar PSR B1257+12) in 1992, the detection and characterization of many near-Earth asteroids, and investigating the nature of Fast Radio Bursts, which have led to heated discussion about whether these puzzling objects might be artificial in origin. Arecibo was also the site from which an interstellar radio message was sent out in 1974, with—at least so far—no answer back. And movie aficionados will recall that Contactand GoldenEye both used the telescope as an unforgettable film location. The loss for radio astronomy is devastating. We will dearly miss Arecibo’s ability to detect anomalies in the radio sky, which may be key to finding technologically advanced extraterrestrial life. The question now is how this loss can be replaced.

On the positive side were several exciting spacecraft missions launched in 2020. China’s Chang’e-5 expedition closed out the year by bringing back rocks and soil from the lunar Ocean of Storms. That should give us a better understanding of the Moon’s history, as the probe collected samples thought to be much younger than those returned by Apollo astronauts who landed in similar flat plains.

Even more exciting from an astrobiological perspective were the multiple missions launched to Mars this year. The most exciting of these is NASA’s Perseverance Rover, the first leg of a campaign to return samples from Mars. The rover will collect rocks and sediment and place them in sealed tubes on the surface, to be retrieved and returned to Earth by a follow-up mission within a few years. The expectation is that we may find hints of past or present life once that cache is analyzed. Perseverance and two other Mars missions, sent by China and the United Arab Emirates, will reach the Red Planet in February. Unfortunately, the second part of Europe’s ExoMars mission—more explicitly focused on astrobiology—had to be postponed until 2022. But once the Rosalind Franklin rover arrives on Mars in June 2023, it will apply the best tools yet to the problem of determining whether traces of life exist on Mars.

The most controversial discovery of the year in regard to astrobiology was the claimed detection of phosphine in the lower clouds of Venus, which hinted at the presence of an aerial biosphere. Based on its hellish environmental conditions, most researchers would have considered that planet utterly lifeless. The attention suddenly paid to Venus was personally gratifying, because I published about the possibility of Venusian cloud life more than a decade ago. The paper did indeed stir up a lot of initial excitement, but how should we evaluate the claim a few months later?

The phosphine detection itself—though challenged from many sides—still stands, although at a lower abundance than initially claimed. My own first reaction to the claim may have been a bit optimistic. But finding phosphine—a molecule indicative of biology on Earth—is still astounding, especially because the gas had not been detected previously on any other terrestrial planet. But it’s far too early to claim we’ve found life on Venus. There are many unknowns about our “twin planet,” which remains largely alien to us. Many processes and chemical reactions are likely occurring in the Venusian atmosphere and on the surface that we don’t yet understand. At present, many of our conclusions are based on models, not actual observations. And the barriers to life in the Venusian atmosphere are formidable: How could it cope with the difficulties of being airborne, along with the hyperacidity, extreme lack of water, and a possible lack of critical nutrients? So, important as this claim is, the year ends with no clear answer—just a hope for future investigations.

Next stop Mars: 3 spacecraft arriving in quick succession

Next stop Mars: 3 spacecraft arriving in quick succession
In this Monday, July 20, 2020 file photo, men watch the launch of the “Amal” or “Hope” space probe at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The orbiter is scheduled to reach Mars on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, followed less than 24 hours later by China’s orbiter-rover combo. NASA’s rover will arrive on the scene a week later, on Feb. 18, to collect rocks for return to Earth—a key step in determining whether life ever existed at Mars. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

After hurtling hundreds of millions of miles through space since last summer, three robotic explorers are ready to hit the brakes at Mars.

The stakes—and anxiety—are sky high.

The United Arab Emirates’ orbiter reaches Mars on Tuesday, followed less than 24 hours later by China’s orbiter-rover combo. NASA’s rover, the cosmic caboose, will arrive on the scene a week later, on Feb. 18, to collect rocks for return to Earth—a key step in determining whether life ever existed at Mars.

Both the UAE and China are newcomers at Mars, where more than half of Earth’s emissaries have failed. China’s first Mars mission, a joint effort with Russia in 2011, never made it past Earth’s orbit.

“We are quite excited as engineers and scientists, at the same time quite stressed and happy, worried, scared,” said Omran Sharaf, project manager for the UAE.

All three spacecraft rocketed away within days of one another last July, during an Earth-to-Mars launch window that occurs only every two years. That’s why their arrivals are also close together.

Called Amal, or Hope in Arabic, the Gulf nation’s spacecraft is seeking an especially high orbit—13,500 by 27,000 miles high (22,000 kilometers by 44,000 kilometers)—all the better to monitor the Martian weather.

Next stop Mars: 3 spacecraft arriving in quick succession
In this Thursday, June 25, 2020 file photo, Mahmood al-Nasser, left, and Mohammad Nasser al-Emadi test the Emirates Mars Mission probe’s “flat sat” at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The spacecraft, named “Amal,” Arabic for “Hope,” will be the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

China’s duo—called Tianwen-1, or “Quest for Heavenly Truth”—will remain paired in orbit until May, when the rover separates to descend to the dusty, ruddy surface. If all goes well, it will be only the second country to land successfully on the red planet.

The U.S. rover Perseverance, by contrast, will dive in straight away for a harrowing sky-crane touchdown similar to the Curiosity rover’s grand Martian entrance in 2012. The odds are in NASA’s favor: It’s nailed eight of its nine attempted Mars landings.

Despite their differences—the 1-ton Perseverance is larger and more elaborate than the Tianwen-1 rover—both will prowl for signs of ancient microscopic life.

Perseverance’s $3 billion mission is the first leg in a U.S.-European effort to bring Mars samples to Earth in the next decade.

“To say we’re pumped about it, well that would be a huge understatement,” said Lori Glaze, NASA’s planetary science director.

Next stop Mars: 3 spacecraft arriving in quick succession
This June 1, 2020 illustration provided by Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre depicts the United Arab Emirates’ Hope Mars probe. (Alexander McNabb/MBRSC via AP)

Perseverance is aiming for an ancient river delta that seems a logical spot for once harboring life. This landing zone in Jezero Crater is so treacherous that NASA nixed it for Curiosity, but so tantalizing that scientists are keen to get hold of its rocks.

“When the scientists take a look at a site like Jezero Crater, they see the promise, right?” said Al Chen, who’s in charge of the entry, descent and landing team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “When I look at Jezero, I see danger. There’s danger everywhere.”

Steep cliffs, deep pits and fields of rocks could cripple or doom Perseverance, following its seven-minute atmospheric plunge. With an 11 1/2-minute communication lag each way, the rover will be on its own, unable to rely on flight controllers. Amal and Tianwen-1 will also need to operate autonomously while maneuvering into orbit.

Next stop Mars: 3 spacecraft arriving in quick succession
In this Wednesday, May 6, 2015 file photo, Sarah Amiri, deputy project manager of a planned United Arab Emirates Mars mission talks about the project named “Hope,” “Amal” in Arabic, during a ceremony in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Until Perseverance, NASA sought out flat, boring terrain on which to land—”one giant parking lot,” Chen said. That’s what China’s Tianwen-1 rover will be shooting for in Mars’ Utopia Planitia.

NASA is upping its game thanks to new navigation technology designed to guide the rover to a safe spot. The spacecraft also has a slew of cameras and microphones to capture the sights and sounds of descent and landing, a Martian first.

Faster than previous Mars vehicles but still moving at a glacial pace, the six-wheeled Perseverance will drive across Jezero, collecting core samples of the most enticing rocks and gravel. The rover will set the samples aside for retrieval by a fetch rover launching in 2026.

Under an elaborate plan still being worked out by NASA and the European Space Agency, the geologic treasure would arrive on Earth in the early 2030s. Scientists contend it’s the only way to ascertain whether life flourished on a wet, watery Mars 3 billion to 4 billion years ago.

Next stop Mars: 3 spacecraft arriving in quick succession
In this Thursday, July 23, 2020 photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, spectators watch as a Long March-5 rocket carrying the Tianwen-1 Mars probe lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China’s Hainan Province. (Yang Guanyu/Xinhua via AP)

NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, considers it “one of the hardest things ever done by humanity and certainly in space science.”

The U.S. is still the only country to successfully land on Mars, beginning with the 1976 Vikings. Two spacecraft are still active on the surface: Curiosity and InSight.

Smashed Russian and European spacecraft litter the Martian landscape, meanwhile, along with NASA’s failed Mars Polar Lander from 1999.

Getting into orbit around Mars is less complicated, but still no easy matter, with about a dozen spacecraft falling short. Mars fly-bys were the rage in the 1960s and most failed; NASA’s Mariner 4 was the first to succeed in 1965.

Six spacecraft currently are operating around Mars: three from the U.S., two from Europe and one from India. The UAE hopes to make it seven with its $200-plus million mission.

Next stop Mars: 3 spacecraft arriving in quick succession
In this Thursday, July 23, 2020 photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, a Long March-5 rocket carrying the Tianwen-1 Mars probe lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China’s Hainan Province. (Guo Cheng/Xinhua via AP)

The UAE is especially proud that Amal was designed and built by its own citizens, who partnered with the University of Colorado at Boulder and other U.S. institutions, not simply purchased from abroad. Its arrival at Mars coincides with this year’s 50th anniversary of the country’s founding.

“Starting off the year with this milestone is something very important for the people” of the UAE, said Sharaf.

China, hasn’t divulged much in advance. Even the spacecraft’s exact arrival time on Wednesday has yet to be announced.

The China Academy of Space Technology’s Ye Peijian noted that Tianwen-1 has three objectives: orbiting the planet, landing and releasing the rover. If successful, he said in a statement “it will become the world’s first Mars expedition accomplishing all three goals with one probe.”

  • Next stop Mars: 3 spacecraft arriving in quick successionThis July 23, 2019 photo made available by NASA shows the head of the Mars rover Perseverance’s remote sensing mast which contains the SuperCam instrument in the large circular opening, two Mastcam-Z imagers in gray boxes, and next to those, the rover’s two navigation cameras, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The robotic vehicle will hunt for rocks containing biological signatures, if they exist. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP)
  • Next stop Mars: 3 spacecraft arriving in quick successionThis image made available by the China National Space Administration on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020 shows the Tianwen-1 probe en route to Mars. China’s duo —called Tianwen-1, or “Quest for Heavenly Truth”—will remain paired in orbit until May, when the rover separates to descend to the dusty, ruddy surface. If all goes well, it will be the second country to land successfully on the red planet. (CNSA via AP)
  • Next stop Mars: 3 spacecraft arriving in quick successionIn this Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 file photo, a lander is lifted during a test of hovering, obstacle avoidance and deceleration capabilities of a Mars lander at a facility in Huailai in China’s Hebei province. China’s orbiter-rover combo, Tianwen-1, is scheduled to reach Mars on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)
  • Next stop Mars: 3 spacecraft arriving in quick successionThis illustration provided by NASA depicts the Mars 2020 spacecraft carrying the Perseverance rover as it approaches Mars. Perseverance’s $3 billion mission is the first leg in a U.S.-European effort to bring Mars samples to Earth in the next decade. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP)
  • Next stop Mars: 3 spacecraft arriving in quick successionIn this illustration provided by NASA, the Perseverance rover fires up its descent stage engines as it nears the Martian surface.. This phase of its entry, descent and landing sequence, or EDL, is known as “powered descent.” (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP)
  • Next stop Mars: 3 spacecraft arriving in quick successionThis illustration provided by NASA shows the Perseverance rover, bottom, landing on Mars. Hundreds of critical events must execute perfectly and exactly on time for the rover to land safely on Feb. 18, 2021. Entry, Descent, and Landing, or “EDL,” begins when the spacecraft reaches the top of the Martian atmosphere, traveling nearly 12,500 mph (20,000 kph). EDL ends about seven minutes after atmospheric entry, with Perseverance stationary on the Martian surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP)
  • Next stop Mars: 3 spacecraft arriving in quick successionIn this Dec. 17, 2019 photo made available by NASA, engineers watch the first driving test for the Mars 2020 rover, later named “Perseverance,” in a clean room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. (J. Krohn/NASA via AP)
  • Next stop Mars: 3 spacecraft arriving in quick successionThis illustration made available by NASA depicts the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars after launching from the Perseverance rover, background left. It will be the first aircraft to attempt controlled flight on another planet. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP)
  • Next stop Mars: 3 spacecraft arriving in quick successionThis image made available by NASA depicts a possible area through which the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover could traverse across Jezero Crater. This mosaic is composed of aligned images from the Context Camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/USGS via AP)
  • Next stop Mars: 3 spacecraft arriving in quick successionThis July 23, 2019 photo made available by NASA shows the head of the Mars rover Perseverance’s remote sensing mast which contains the SuperCam instrument in the large circular opening, two Mastcam-Z imagers in gray boxes, and next to those, the rover’s two navigation cameras, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The robotic vehicle will hunt for rocks containing biological signatures, if they exist. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP)
  • Next stop Mars: 3 spacecraft arriving in quick successionThis image made available by the China National Space Administration on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020 shows the Tianwen-1 probe en route to Mars. China’s duo —called Tianwen-1, or “Quest for Heavenly Truth”—will remain paired in orbit until May, when the rover separates to descend to the dusty, ruddy surface. If all goes well, it will be the second country to land successfully on the red planet. (CNSA via AP)

The coronavirus pandemic has complicated each step of each spacecraft’s 300 million-mile (480 million-kilometer) journey to Mars. It even kept the European and Russian space agencies’ joint Mars mission grounded until the next launch window in 2022.

The flight control rooms will contain fewer people on the big day, with staff spread over a wider area and working from home. Desks have dividers and partitions. Masks and social distancing are mandatory.

Perseverance’s deputy project manager Matt Wallace, who’s working his fifth Mars rover mission, said the pandemic won’t dampen the mood come landing day.

“I don’t think COVID’s going to be able to stop us from jumping up and down, and fist-bumping,” he said. “You’re going to see a lot of happy people no matter what, once we get this thing on the surface safely.”