10/04/2012 06:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Is The Mars Rover Using The Internet 182 Million Miles From Earth?

If you think your list of Foursquare check-ins at hot restaurants and bars makes you cool, guess again. The Mars rover Curiosity beat you by a mile (or 182 million miles, the current distance between the Earth and Mars): It checked in on Mars on October 3.

At approximately 2 p.m. (East Coast Earth time), the car-sized rover -- sent to the red planet to study its climate and geology and look for signs of past life -- posted the following update on the location-based social network:

mars rover intenret

The question we have: How does someone (or in this case, something) check in at a location 182 million miles from Earth? The answer, disappointingly, is it can't -- not really.

"The rover isn't capable of sending [a Foursquare update]," explained Veronica McGregor of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We had to help it out."

What NASA's Earth-bound social media team did was take the true latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates of the rover in the red planet's Gale Crater and send them to Foursquare. So the check-in is real, location information and all; but we can no longer justifiably imagine Curiosity mechanical arms desperately struggling with an iPhone keyboard's autocorrect.

While the rover's not connected to the Internet, it communicates with engineers using NASA's powerful Deep Space Network. Signals are sent by radio waves via orbiters circling Mars or, if need be, directly to Earth without a satellite's help. Currently, it takes about 16 minutes for a radio message sent by Curiosity to reach Earth. That's how the rover's been sending back all those amazing photos from the surface of Mars.

Nevertheless, Curiosity's presence on social media is very cool. "We'll continue to update as the rover roves," McGregor said, adding that they'll sprinkle in some of the science the rover is doing along the way. Of course, the team's also tweeting for Curiosity too.

The Martian checkin is only the latest status update from space: NASA's Douglas Wheelock checked into the International Space Station in 2010 and astronauts have been tweeting since 2009.



Mars Rover Landing Photos