Feb 16, 2021 - Science

Perseverance rover nearing Mars arrival

Artist's illustration of Perseverance on Mars. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist's illustration of Perseverance on Mars. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Perseverance rover, which launched to Mars in July, is set to arrive at the Red Planet Thursday.

Why it matters: The rover is expected to hunt for signs of past life in the remains of what scientists think was once a river delta billions of years ago.

What to watch: The rover — which is about the size of a car — should touch down on Mars at about 3:55pm ET, and you can watch live coverage of the event through NASA starting at 2:15pm ET Thursday via NASA TV.

  • Perseverance is expected to land in much the same way as NASA's Curiosity did in 2012 using what's known as a "sky crane maneuver."
  • The rover will speed toward the ground at about 12,000 mph before a parachute and powered descent slow it down. From there, the rover will be lowered to the ground via cables, according to NASA.
  • Perseverance is also carrying a little helicopter as a technology demonstration that's expected to fly sometime after landing.

The intrigue: Curiosity confirmed Mars was once a wet and habitable world, at least for microbial life, and Perseverance is going to build on that work.

  • Its landing site was specifically chosen because river deltas are thought to have some of the best chances for preserving past life, potentially making Perseverance's job a little easier.
  • This is NASA's first rover with a real chance of finding signs of life.
  • "It's what we've been building up to for a long time now," planetary scientist Briony Horgan of Purdue University told Axios before the mission launched.
  • The rover also comes equipped with sampling containers that it will fill with interesting rocks expected to be returned to Earth on a future Mars mission.

The big picture: China and the United Arab Emirates both successfully got their missions into orbit around the Red Planet within a day of one another last week. Now it's on Perseverance to complete the trio that launched last year.

Go deeper