Sunday, August 05, 2012

Planets To Form 'Martian Triangle' for Curiosity Rover Landing (Video)

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Mars Rover Landing  Approach

By Andrew Fazekas
National Geographic News
     A striking pregame show featuring Mars, Saturn, and the star Spica will set the stage Sunday for the landing of the Curiosity rover.

Hours before Curiosity's touchdown, "the stellar trio will be visible high above the southwest horizon after sunset and together form what is called the Martian Triangle," said Jim Todd, planetarium manager at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

Martian Triangle
"Shining bright ... Mars will be visible towards the right of Saturn, while Spica is below the two planets."

Visible to the naked eye, the bodies will appear separated by only five degrees on each side—equal to the width of a fist. Yet their proximity is only an optical illusion, as they are at considerable distances from each other, Todd said.

Fortuitous Conjunction

Called a conjunction—when celestial objects get close to each other in the sky—this eye-catching equilateral triangle is not rare. But its timing with the Mars rover is fortuitous.

At about 1:24 a.m. ET on Sunday, Curiosity's entry capsule will slam into Mars's upper atmosphere in what has been dubbed the seven minutes of terror: the rover's entry, descent, and landing. . . .

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