Video: Curiosity Rover Lands on Mars

JPL rover successfully targets the projected landed region.

Curiosity Rover Lands on Mars

Curiosity Rover Lands on Mars

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scientists at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California are celebrating after the Curiosity rover completed a successful landing in the Gale Crater on Mars late Sunday night PST. After its long journey, which began atop an Atlas V rocket on Nov. 26, 2011, the rover touched down about 1.2 miles northeast of its target, well within the 12-mile long projected landing region.

The goal of Curiosity's mission is not to find life but rather to study Mars' habitability by finding out whether the planet has ever been able to support microbial life. The rover will do this by bringing samples via robotic arms to analytical instruments within the vessel that send data to scientists on Earth. One of the instruments is a "laser-firing instrument for checking rocks' elemental composition from a distance," according to JPL. Several cameras and other instruments, recording information such as weather, performance and navigation data, are also onboard. JPL's scientists are planning to conduct research on Mars using the Curiosity rover for "one Mars year or about 23 Earth months."

This is not the first landing by a rover on Mars, but what makes Curiosity special is its size. In order to be able to carry all the equipment needed for the mission, the vessel is twice as long and five times as heavy as the Spirit or Opportunity, rovers that landed on Mars in 2004. Seven feet in length and about 2,000 pounds, Curiosity is about the size of a small SUV.

See NASA's video of the landing here.