Working the night shift on Mars, the Curiosity rover gives us a wink from the LEDs attached to its MAHLI sample analysis arm, and drills a hole in pitch darkness in these images from June 2.
We’re used to seeing the rusty Martian surface bathed in light from the sun, but like every other planet that orbits on its axis, Mars experiences both day and night. And because of the oddities of what a “day” is on Earth and Mars, the rover has to pull some night shifts.
One sol, or Martian solar day, takes roughly 24 hours and 39 minutes (although that’s not the only way to define a day). Ground controllers on Earth must match their schedule to the Martian day, their workday offset from Earth’s by nearly 40 minutes every day. This means they gradually show up later and later to work every day from our perspective, their Martian watches set to a different rhythm. Every 36.5 days, Earth’s and Mars’ day/night cycle meets up, a “day” apart.
Bonus: If you’ve got the “time”, check out the story of a master watchmaker who created a timepiece for the Martian day.