Monday, 6 August 2012

Curiosity, Twitter and the British Connection

No one who watched the "7 minutes of terror" sequence outlining how the Curiosity Mars rover would land could have escaped thinking "Crikey, that looks a bit complicated, not sure it'll work"

Curiosity being lowered by the skycrane - madness!

Well, at 06.31(UK time) on 6th August 2012, it did!

NSB, along with many millions of others was glued to a PC screen watching the live feed from the NASA control room, whilst simultaneously reading and writing Tweets. The approx 15min descent through the Martian atmosphere was an intense, incredible ride. Here is an outline of the landing (all times are Earth received, so 14minutes after the actual event):

And when NASA control got confirmation that Curiosity had successfully landed, the control room (and Twitter) went ballistic.
The Right Stuff

And stayed that way as, within a few minutes, the first images were received :

First images received within minutes, NASA servers immediately
crashed due to traffic from around the world

The Landing on Twitter

Twitter is a rather ephemeral environment, and it is perhaps worth mentioning some of the most memorable Tweets from the landing, which was characterised by very focussed tweeting and some serious retweetage...

Phil Plait was one of a number of Tweeters who pointed out that the time delay in receiving signals from Mars meant that as NASA was receiving information on the beginning of the descent, Curiosity was already on the Martian surface - the only question was whether it was there in one or one thousand pieces...

And it may have been Phil's Tweet that promted Christine Yant to make a nice theoretical phyiscs related comment on the nature of uncertainty...

There was great relief signals showed that Curiosity had sucessfully landed, with Tim Hwang showing how feedback might look if Curiosity had been sent by Amazon...

Ragebauer captured the mood of many sciency Americans unhappy at the recent cut in NASA's funding...

Meanwhile, Ben Dolman took a London2012 view of events in a comment that was retweeted some 8,000 times.

Stephen Curry, noting that Curiosity was nuclear powered, commented that it was an anniversary of a much darker use of that technology (see also here)...

Pablo Defendini captured the feelings of many as the first grainy images were sent back by Curiosity, just a few minutes after landing...

In terms of atmosphere, Ben Little, described some heartwarmingly geeky crowd chants at Times Square..

But for NSB, the most memorable Tweet came from AstroJenny, who captured the whole awesomeness of the event in a sentence that was made even more touching by it's ASCII-code related imperfection...

The British Connection
The Engineer has reported on how UK based high tech company E2v have developed the imaging sensors that equip Curiosity's Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) and also the imaging sensors on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which captured a frankly jaw-dropping image of Curiosity rover parachuting down to the Martian surface (for extreme geekiness about this, see here)

The lander and its parachute captured, unbelievably, from the MRO orbiting satellite.

In addition, UK's Qinetiq, provided the Transceiver that is currently in orbit around the Mars on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express, which monitored Curiosity's descent to the Martian surface, and also provided the Mars Express Lander Communications subsystem MELACOM will then support the rover during its operational life on the surface of Mars.

On the sciency front, the Engineer separately reports on how Dr John Bridges from Leicester University will be one of the scientists studying the composition of Martian sediments - check out his blog

. Notes
You can see more Twitter related Curiosity stuff over on Buzzfeed.

And here on NSB, you might be interested in these astronomy related posts:
Interview with Prof Alfonso Aragon-Salamanca
Interview with Sky-at-Night co-presenter Chris Lintott
A short history of Radio Astronomy
A lecture by the 2011 astronomy hightlights
A lecture on galaxy formation

Image Sources : Timeline, Skycrane, First Image, Control, Curiosity parachuting: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.

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