Budding astronomers and NASA flight controllers need to know -- what time is it at the landing site of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Opportunity rover? As we all know from watching the successful rover landing the other day, Macs are very popular at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. So it's not surprising that there's a Mac app available for determining the current time at various points on the red planet.
The Mars24 Sunclock app is a Java application that displays a constantly updating clock in one window as well as a second window that displays a sunclock (a map of the Martian surface showing the parts of the planet in light and shadow), a solar system view showing where the various planets are in their orbits around the Sun, a local panorama from the Opportunity rover's current location, or an analemma.
The app is surprisingly fun to use. The sunclock display also shows the spot on the Mars surface that is directly "under" the sun or Earth and the panorama display lets the flight controllers figure out when and where the sun is going to rise from the viewpoint of the rover. There's a constant display of how far away Mars is at the present time (1.685 AU or 156,630,535 miles), and how long it's going to take for signals from Earth or Mars to reach the other planet (right now, 14 minutes and 1 second).
The only negative about this app is that most Mountain Lion machines don't have a Java virtual machine installed, and you'll be prompted to let OS X install it before you can run the app. There's also a security concern; getting the app to run on Mountain Lion at this time requires you to "allow applications downloaded from anywhere" just for the first launch, since this is an unsigned app and Gatekeeper throws a hissy fit when you try to run it.
After that initial launch, you can switch your Gatekeeper settings back to the preferred "App Store & identified developers" option; the app has been whitelisted by the initial launch. Normally, you could use the workaround of right-clicking the app and choosing Open, then telling Gatekeeper to launch the app -- however as the NASA download page notes this does not work for this particular app. It reports as "damaged" unless Gatekeeper is in fully permissive mode for the first launch. [Thanks to reader Gregory for his note about Gatekeeper, which led us to check both the right-click and restored setting options.]
Still, if you switch Gatekeeper to permissive mode for a moment, launch the app & then switch back, you can install Mars24 Sunclock and enjoy the feeling of being a Curiosity flight controller without the need for a mohawk haircut. Now if they could just make this an iOS app and give authorized people a way to "drive" the rover from home...