The scene in New York as the Curiosity rover landed

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New York’s Times Square regularly fills up for great public events, the crowd chanting and cheering. Rarely, however, do they chant, “Science! Science! Science!” as they did last night. An extraordinary number of people came out at 1:31am to watch the landing of Curiosity, NASA’s new Mars rover.

The TED Blog decided it would be fun to watch live as Curiosity touched down, and indeed it was. The crowd of several hundred, braving a freak rainshower, watched expectantly for an hour before the landing, listening to a broadcast on NASA apps on their phones as the live feed from the control room played on a big screen above the square.

The landing of Curiosity has been long awaited — weeks of buildup, and of course many years of planning. (Watch the director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA, Charles Elachi, describe the mission in 2008.) The people gathered were clearly excited, and indeed broke into small bursts of applause as successful middle stages of the complex descent procedure were completed.

And then, when the control room found out the landing was successful and erupted with cheers, the crowd joined in, and then began a second chant, “NASA! NASA! NASA!” — another first for Times Square.

Curiosity is, of course, one part of a long and rich tradition of exploring other planets. Below, some TEDTalks and TEDxTalks about Mars and the rest of the solar system.

 Joel Levine: Why we need to go back to Mars >>

Penelope Boston on why there might be life on Mars >>

Carolyn Porco flies us through the amazing science being done by the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn >> 

Brian Cox explains the vital importance of fundamental science and exploration >> 

At TEDxUniversityofGothenburg, Maria Sundin explains why water is a necessity for life, and the history of water on Mars >>

At TEDxCaltech, Jeff Marlow meditates on nature of exploration >>

Times Square watches Curiosity rover land

The scene in Times Square.

First image from Curiosity

One of the first images taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover.

Photos: Times Square by Thu-Huong Ha. Mars image courtesy of NASA.