This “waterfall image” is actually three separate observations combined to show NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover as it enters the Martian atmosphere before touching down on the red planet. Green Bank Observatory Data Analyst Amber Bonsall created this image using data received by the Green Bank Telescope (GBT). The GBT was pointed at Mars to observe communications from the rover as it landed February 18th, 2021 at 3:55 p.m. EDT.
Important moments in the rovers Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) are labeled on the image and defined here:
- Entry/Plasma Blackout: The aeroshell enters Mar’s atmosphere and is completely blacked out from view. This is similar to the heating up of spacecraft upon reentry to the Earth’s atmosphere.
- Drop Alignment Weight: The lander slows down a bit as it drops off some weights that are designed to help it align itself into the correct position for descent.
- Free Fall, Straightening Out: The lander free falls and attempts to make final preparations to position itself upright for its parachute to deploy.
- Parachute Deployed: The parachute deploys, causing a dramatic slowdown, stabilizing briefly before the heat shield drops off.
- Heat Shield Removed: The heat shield that protected the craft during its scorching atmospheric entry falls away and the rover slows down a bit again.
- Rover Separated: The rover and the helicopter separate, causing the last tiny bump and then the signal ends.
View a recording of the Observatory’s live stream coverage of the rover landing, along with a playlist of all interviews and activities.
The Green Bank Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation and is operated by Associated Universities, Inc.
Contacts: Jill Malusky, Green Bank Observatory Public Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org