The long anticipation is over, NASA's Perseverance rover has successfully made it to Mars, and survived the nerve-racking "7 minutes of terror" to touch down on the Martian surface at 3:57 pm ET (8:57 pm UTC) yesterday, February 18.
This is NASA's 5th rover to successfully land on the Red Planet and is the biggest and most ambitious Mars mission yet. To celebrate the enormous achievement, the Perseverance rover beamed back some of its first images about 5 minutes after touchdown to show off its surroundings in the Jezero Crater. Due to the 11-minute time delay in signals from Mars, this is the closest we've got to real-time views of Mars.
The Jezero Crater, where the rover will spend the next two years searching for historic signs of microbial life once consisted of a former lake and river delta and should provide an ideal opportunity to look for any signs of ancient life on the now inhospitable planet.
Perseverance is extremely sophisticated, fitted with a lot of useful tools for its scientific tasks, including 23 cameras, microphones, and, wait for it, a helicopter drone (a space first!) to support its endeavors for the next 687 Earth days – or one Mars year – on the Red Planet.
Using some of its snazzy cameras onboard, the rover beamed back its first image to mission control. It shows a front-end facing view of Mars with terrain that seems relatively smooth in the crater region, with the rover's shadow on the ground.
The second image mission control received was a rear-end facing image showing a very similar terrain pattern, however, it contained the rover's wheel visible in the right-hand bottom corner of the image.
NASA also released an interactive map showing Perseverance's location after touchdown. The blue circled zone is the area the rover will explore over the next two years to collect rocks and regolith for a sample mission that could possibly be returned to Earth if all goes well.
February has been a very exciting month for Mars news. Earlier this month, China's TIANWEN-1 space probe reached the Red Planet's orbit, with the view to sending a lander to the surface in May or June, as did the UAE's Hope mission. Now Perseverance has capped off that excitement with a successful landing, ready to start the quest to uncover whether life ever existed on Mars.
The team at NASA mission control is expecting higher resolution images from the rover soon, with further video materials and hopefully the first audio of a rover landing in the next couple of days. Perseverance's first official mission will start in about 2 weeks after the rover has completed a "check out" period to make sure everything is working and ready to go.
Further images have now been released on Twitter by team Perseverance: