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Understanding the Mars rover mission: A Times Google+ hangout

August 3, 2012 |  7:34 am

Excitement is building over the latest rover mission to Mars.

The Times will host a Google+ hangout about the mission Friday at 2 p.m. PDT. Readers can submit questions below or on Google+, or on Twitter using the hashtag #asklatimes.

Curiosity, a roving lab that will scour Mars for the ingredients of life, is scheduled to land Sunday at 10:17 p.m. PDT in an ancient geological feature known as the Gale Crater. It is a complex operation. At 1,982 pounds, Curiosity is five times as heavy as previous Mars rovers. Its landing requires a dizzying sequence of pyrotechnics and on-the-fly adjustment, all done automatically because Mars is 154 million miles from Earth -- too far for the swift communication that would be needed to guide the landing.

PHOTOS: A rover called Curiosity

At a briefing Thursday, scientists said satellites had discovered a dust storm swirling south of Gale Crater. Earlier this week, the storm was more than 600 miles from Curiosity's landing site but large enough that it could kick up a pesky cloud of dust.

In theory, that could affect the accuracy of Curiosity's landing mechanism, but scientists said that the craft had been engineered to guard against nasty weather and that storms like this are common and typically dissipate in a day or two.

Correction: An earlier version of this post gave the incorrect time for the landing. It's 10:17 p.m. Sunday PDT.

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