Today Only, You Can Get a Bird’s Eye View of Mars in Near-Real-Time

A new tool allows you to see what Mars is like right now, minus a little relativistic time delay.

mars express illustration

The European Space Agency is enabling a robot to do what no robot has done before: provide a real-time view of the surface of Mars. The agency is live downlinking the pictures to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its Mars Express orbiter, which launched two decades ago today from the Baikonur complex in Russia. It entered orbit in December 2003.

According to a press release from the agency, images will beam down approximately every 50 seconds. This will give the public a chance to view Mars in the same way as some mission scientists see it, where a stream of images floods in. Due to the vast distance to Mars, it will have a slight light-speed delay, so it will be in not-quite-real time but pretty close.

Depending on where Mars is in relation to Earth, this delay can be anywhere from three to 22 minutes, the agency says. In this case, it will be 18 minutes, as light has an unbreakable speed limit, and Mars is around 185 million miles away right now. (At its closest, Mars is about 34 million miles from Earth.)

The stream, which you can view below, will start at 12 p.m. Eastern time.

While this will be the first live downlink of images, the Perseverance rover previously streamed its perilous descent to the Red Planet in February 2021. But data transmission in real-time is fairly energy intensive, making a live stream from space a pretty rare event outside of near-Earth space.

The event will last one hour, which is shorter than most birthday parties but long enough to savor a few dozen images of our glorious and fragile neighbor. Mars Express is one of seven orbiters around Mars that are active right now. Three are from NASA, one is from India, one is from China, one is from the United Arab Emirates, and of course, one is from the European Space Agency. Only NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter has been on the Red Planet longer, having launched in April 2001 and entered orbit in October 2001.

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