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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

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Feb 16, 2021 - Science

Biden takes Trump's lead in space

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Biden administration is staying the course set out by the Trump administration when it comes to space, at least for now.

Why it matters: Administrations often abandon their predecessors' goals in favor of new ones when they come to power. That kind of "moonshot whiplash" can leave NASA stuck on Earth because it takes consistency between administrations to accomplish large exploration goals.

Updated 39 mins ago - Health

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

2 hours ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.