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Mars rover Curiosity scientist, family living on 'Mars time'

September 5, 2012 |  7:18 am

What is it like living on "Mars time"?

The family of NASA official David Oh is finding out thanks to the Mars rover Curiosity mission.

A Mars day, called a sol, is 39 minutes and 35 seconds longer than a 24-hour day on Earth. That small difference adds up fast, so that noon becomes midnight after 2½ weeks.

Times Science Writer Amina Khan discussed "Mars time" with Oh and his wife during a Google+ Hangout on Tuesday.

Here's a sample from Khan's story:

David Oh's eldest son taped aluminum foil over his windows. His daughter painted a sign warning visitors away from the front door. His wife pulled the phone cord out of the wall and turned the couple's cellphones off.

David's time on Earth had come to a temporary end — and he was taking his family with him.

As soon as the rover Curiosity dropped onto the Martian surface on Aug. 5, David and hundreds of his fellow scientists and engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory switched from Earth time to Mars time.

PHOTOS: Mars rover mission

As the lead flight director for the Mars Science Laboratory team, David would sync his life up with the rover's for the first 90 Martian days of the Curiosity mission. It may not be rocket science, but it's quite an undertaking.

 As scientists wind up sleeping during the day and working through the night, their lives pull away from those of their families.

Not the Oh Clan. For the first month, all five have stuck together, an idea championed by David's wife, Bryn.

"This project for six years has been so much a part of his life," she said at the family's tidy two-story home in La Cañada Flintridge. "This was a way that I thought that we could be a part of it."

The family has learned a lot about Southern California since their experiment began, talking to friendly folk in a Canoga Park bowling alley at 4 a.m. and gawking at late-night partygoers while eating dinner at dawn at Fred 62 in Los Feliz.

They've discovered the Hollywood sign isn't lit at night and that the sand on Santa Monica's moonlit shores is still the perfect temperature for walking barefoot. They've noticed that freeway traffic bottoms out at 3 a.m., then starts to pick up again just an hour later.

During one of their frequent late-night walks in the hills near their house, one of the kids saw two shooting stars streak across the quiet sky during the Perseid meteor shower.

Read the full story here.

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