When we get the signal that we hit the atmosphere, we're already on the surface... yet we don't know in what condition. So you are sitting there going "our rover right now is on the surface of Mars... dead or alive." And then you live the next seven minutes living in this delayed time.
It's like the NBC delay, but worse and because of physics. Watch him explaining the whole process and get ready for your head to explode.
This is the same phenomenon that allows us to see the Pillars of Creation using Hubble even while they were destroyed a thousand years ago. Since light has to travel through space, everything is delayed.
In fact, everything you look at, this screen, your desk or your sofa, the view from your window, your own hands, is already in the past. Only a tiny fraction of a second, but the reality you see now is already gone when it hits your eyes.
The same happens with those radio signals. Since they have to travel through space, there's a communication delay between Earth and Mars. It's very short, but it will be enough to drive everyone at JPL crazy for seven minutes. Starting with Thoma, who was both the Mars Curiosity's Descent Stage Lead Structures & Configuration Engineer—the famous sky crane that marvels everyone—and the Mechanical Lead for Assembly, Test, and Launch Operations for the mission.
Godspeed Curiosity! And go faster faster, damn radio waves.
I'm going to live blog the landing live from the JPL later tonight, starting around 12:30am ET/9:30pm PT.
Gizmodo is covering the Mars Curiosity rover live from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Check all the articles here.