Weather on Mars for ‘Curiosity’s landing: Dry and cold with a slight chance of dust

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PASADENA, Calif. — About 34 hours from the Mars rover Curiosity’s landing (scheduled for 01:31 am Eastern time on Monday), NASA brought us the latest weather forecast from the surface — dry and cold, with a slight chance of dust. Slight is good.

This composite image of the global surface of Mars shows the puffy remnant of a dust storm near the area where the Mars rover Curiosity is scheduled to land. The landing is at Gale Crater, highlighted in the circle. / NASA / JPL

Earlier this week, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted a dust storm south of Gale Crater, the rover’s targeted landing site. While dust storms have posed problems for previous generations of rovers, the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft and Curiosity rover is designed to handle dust and winds, so a light storm wouldn’t have been a huge problem. But it could have caused added turbulence, interfering with the spacecraft’s guided entry and landing. Curiosity could still land safely, though it may set its wheels down with a little less accuracy than managers want. …

The rover has been flying in autonomous mode since Monday, and it’s on its own for landing. If any dust storms should appear, the spacecraft will have to deal with them as best it can. Stay tuned for more about just how Curiosity will do that.

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