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Watch Out Mars! 1080 HD Video of Curiosity Descent

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Ok, so every so often something comes along that just blows away everything you’ve seen before. This is one of those things. Soon after Curiosity made landfall we got to see a glimpse of a low-resolution and highly compressed time-lapse video of the descent, showing the heat-shield fall away and a precipitous drop to the martian surface. It was very cool.

Now this is very, very, very cool. Visual effects dab-hand, Daniel Luke Fitch, has used the more recently available HD frames of the descent to make this jaw-dropping movie. As he explains, it runs at 15 frames a second, which represents a speed-up of real events by 3 times. So the actual descent was not quite as ferocious, but it was pretty darn close.

The fidelity is astonishing. Early on, at around the 2-3 second mark, and again at 0:08 you can see the diffuse glow of what I think must be atmospheric and dust reflection of sunlight. The final drop happens at around 0:33, it’s pretty messy, one can only presume that without the sky crane it would’ve been even more so.


Caleb A. Scharf About the Author: Caleb Scharf is the director of Columbia University's multidisciplinary Astrobiology Center. He has worked in the fields of observational cosmology, X-ray astronomy, and more recently exoplanetary science. His books include Gravity's Engines (2012) and The Copernicus Complex (2014) (both from Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux.) Follow on Twitter @caleb_scharf.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Professor Scott 2:13 pm 08/23/2012

    I would love it if NASA stop stealing my work its getting really old and easy to spot I contacted a investor about funding me for a space probe to Gilese 581 d the probe would get to the planet in about 22 months and return in another 24 months bringing back 1000 photos and about 12 hours of footage in HD 1080p the test flights were suppose to go to Mars an do the same opperation and what do I find NASA Doing its interesting because I thought they were actually smart good thing they didnt still the blueprints to the probe who know what sort of madness they would have done however I would have given it to them if they had asked now I dont trust them they are nothing but reverse technologist……………..

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  2. 2. polyman71 2:27 pm 08/23/2012

    Professor Scott: Are you joking or are you “nonfunctional”?

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  3. 3. denverporter 2:41 pm 08/23/2012

    Caleb, I promise there’s many more enthusiastic and grateful readers who absolutely drooled over this post this morning at work. That was one of those videos that changes your paradigm forever. HD footage of a descent to another planet?! Makes me glad I’m alive in our time! Amazing time lapse; now I need to go watch Red Planet and read some Kim Stanley Robinson again.

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  4. 4. Professor Scott 3:00 pm 08/23/2012

    Obviously I see my slit error but unlike you I do my homework plus my research people feel that when you say that you have the understanding to reach certain goals they call you non functional you say that like its impossible believe me DARPA is fully capable of achieving the same goal see you have to understand the technology you see today is the same technology the government has been having for 50 to 100 years so the know-how is in the books not in the class room people called Tesla crazy they called John Wallace Crazy they called Einstein Crazy but till this day we all use their work,And NASA is using mine

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  5. 5. Professor Scott 3:11 pm 08/23/2012

    Steal slight^

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  6. 6. polyman71 3:16 pm 08/23/2012

    Professor Scott: Thanks….question answered.

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  7. 7. polyman71 3:18 pm 08/23/2012

    Caleb, I was distracted by the good prof here, but the footage is great, thanks.

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  8. 8. Professor Scott 3:26 pm 08/23/2012

    I can see how people would find it ridiculous when I say these things because NASA is well respected and what would I know about building spacecraft because I made a few typos but you know maybe the next time I will do like Ted Cruise trade my work with China or bulk up other countries space programs and they can reach the planet before NASA guess I will be charged with terrorism or treason but no I choose to love this country even after all the scandals and criminal activity and lies and secrets

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  9. 9. paulmd199 3:26 pm 08/23/2012

    Professor. Gilese is so far away that a beam of light cannot reach it for 20 years. That means 40 years round trip for communications.

    Nothing has been proven to exceed the speed of light. Still.

    Nasa hasn’t been stealing your galactic probe. Because it can’t work.

    Provided you’re not a nut, do you think perhaps you want to prove superluminal speeds in a lab first before proposing probes. Putting the cart before the horse, a tad?

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  10. 10. bredin07 3:29 pm 08/23/2012

    What kind of professor hasnt discovered the use of a period in a sentence?

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  11. 11. madmikeee 3:35 pm 08/23/2012

    Professor huh? Yeah, and I am Queen Elizabeth.

    Awesome footage. I am hoping some day that N.A.S.A. can find a way to get an actual film of the decent and landing of a probe. That would be spectacular. I will show this to my 9 year old son and I am sure he will be in awe as his name was put on one of the chips on Curiousity. He was so excited when he found out that it landed safely :) .

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  12. 12. Ralf123 4:04 pm 08/23/2012

    I wonder if you can become a professor if you’re unable to write a coherent sentence.

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  13. 13. SilentBreach 4:12 pm 08/23/2012

    It might make more sense if his period key wasn’t broken. Maybe.

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  14. 14. rosetyler 4:36 pm 08/23/2012

    Thanks for this Caleb. Maybe Prof Scott could do a proof of concept a go pick up the heat shield. It should only take a few minutes at warp 10.

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  15. 15. paulmd199 4:54 pm 08/23/2012

    @roseytler. He’s only going a bit above warp 2 by the calculations used in the original star trek series. warp 1=1c, 2=8c, 3=9c. 10c is about warp 2.15.

    Oops, did I out myself? :)

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  16. 16. benwelgoed 4:54 pm 08/23/2012

    It’s grand we all do get to see these images which come trickling down from that enormous distance, and take so much effort once received to put back together into interpretable images.

    To Beam-me-up-Scotty: Go get your treatment soon, and hopefully for once it works. This great achievement by NASA won’t be toppled by all that negativism spewed by the likes of you.

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  17. 17. rosetyler 5:00 pm 08/23/2012

    @paulmd199. thank you for correcting my math. good man.

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  18. 18. jtdwyer 6:12 pm 08/23/2012

    Wow – skydiving on Mars!
    Thanks Caleb!

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  19. 19. Glendon Mellow 6:17 pm 08/23/2012

    What a fun video. Amazing!

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  20. 20. jewmom 6:48 pm 08/23/2012

    @Professor Scott… Learn to use a period and proper grammar, and THEN talk trash about the amazing accomplishments of NASA. You sir, are an idiot.

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  21. 21. Cartoonz 4:13 am 08/24/2012

    Bellevue called. They’re missing a patient.
    …AKA “Professor” Scott

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  22. 22. AlDee 10:43 am 08/24/2012


    I think you outted everyone who responds to your post……(Oh Darn!)

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  23. 23. AlDee 10:49 am 08/24/2012


    BTW Since I’m already outted, regarding the 40 year round trip, I think you’ve overlooked the obvious, he must be planning to send the data back via sub-space.

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  24. 24. paulmd199 12:02 pm 08/24/2012

    Nope. I didn’t overlook. He says the probe is coming all the way back home all by itself.

    Still, he might have a subspace transmitter. But then why would he want the probe itself to come home when it could just be resident and return more science?

    His mission plan clearly needs work. :)

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  25. 25. AlDee 12:28 pm 08/24/2012

    You’re right! How did I miss that? I think I understand though. He’s worried about NASA intercepting the data and taking credit for it. This way he can make sure the data lands in his back yard.

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  26. 26. paulmd199 1:19 pm 08/24/2012

    That must be it.

    Wait a minute… If it lands in has back yard, how is he going to keep it away from the Men in Black and the Lizard People?

    Maybe they’ll be too busy fighting each other over it, and he can get away clean.

    Hmm…. might work. Wait, what about the Greys? He must have plan for them too.

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  27. 27. AlDee 3:52 pm 08/24/2012

    I’d be more worried about the Borg assimilating the technology and making it their own. Oh wait, NASA already did that didn’t they. Maybe NASA is really the Borg…Wait, what about the Cylons? We forgot about the bloody Cylons! This is getting SO complicated

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  28. 28. paulmd199 4:54 pm 08/24/2012

    Cylons? Noooooo…. he’s doomed.

    Wait a minute… no he’s not. Cylons can’t stand microwave ovens. Problem solved.

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  29. 29. amdurso 10:49 pm 08/24/2012

    This is awesome.

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  30. 30. Radius 5:24 am 08/25/2012


    What makes this new Mars exploration so special (for me as a radiation biologist) is the fact, that the rovers energy supply is by about 5 kg of plutonium 238, providing about 120 W electric energy for at least five years. Thats fine, I would say from an engineers point of view, and I would also like to drive my old Benz with this sort of low-emission, low-cost and low-maintenace type of fuel.
    But the radiation-biologist in me (and I hope you agree somehow) has to wonder about the long term consequences of 5 kg plutonium, a potent alpha emitter, if it comes to its mutatgenic effects in living organisms. Assuming the plutonium is relased from the mars rover and evenly spread over the hypothetical mars ecosphere, it would cause a tremendous rise of the mutation rate in all cells, whether low prokaryotes or in higher and ulti-cellular creatures like plants or animals or anything else in between. This means the 5 years mission of the man-made Mars rover will not only explore the presence of live on Mars, but if there is any, it will also drive evolution by increasing the number of new mutants. So scientists will not only be the silent observers, but active players of an extra-terrestrial evolution of life.

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  31. 31. Caleb A. Scharf in reply to Caleb A. Scharf 11:44 am 08/25/2012

    The Pu-238 dioxide in the Curiosity RTG is not going to be released or spread into the Martian environment. It’s held in an extremely tough container as multiple small cubes. The half-life is about 88 years (this is Pu-238 not the weapons-grade Pu-239) and the primary decay product is alpha-particles, which have very short travel paths in atmosphere and are easily shielded against. So I fail to see the connection, the rover is not spreading mutagenic radiation, period.

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  32. 32. bredin07 4:05 pm 08/29/2012

    Thanks to everyone for copying my original statement, YOUR ALL ORIGINAL!

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  33. 33. meba 1:14 pm 08/30/2012

    Does anyone know what the very flat features are above the rocky ridge? They are seen best in frame :07. They look like lakes but I am sure they must be something else. Maybe lava flows? They sure look like water features though. One feature close to the ridge is rectangular in shape.

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