NASA providing daily weather reports for Mars

Vastavam web: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will provide daily weather reports for Mars, thanks to the Red Planet’s newest robotic resident, InSight, mission scientists announced Thursday. “The InSight lander is close to the Martian equator — just north of the equator — so it is experiencing Martian winter,” said Don Banfield, the mission’s lead for the lander’s Auxiliary Payload Subsystem (APSS).

APSS is a suite of meteorological sensors on the lander’s deck that also helps with quake detection. “For our mission, APSS will help us filter out noise in our data and know when we’re seeing a Mars quake and when we aren’t,” said Banfield, a principal research scientist at Cornell University in the US. “Since the lander is close to the equator, I did not think we would see any evidence of the storms that are 60-degrees north latitude, but we are already seeing evidence of the high and low pressure-signal waves that create weather on Mars,” Banfield said.

“We can see those waves all the way down near the equator, as the waves are big enough that they have a signature. That was a surprise,” he said in a statement. The pressure signals oscillate every 2.5 sols (the name for days on Mars), and the waves are easier to predict as opposed to how pressure waves behave on Earth. One sol is about 24 hours, 39 minutes long. Mission scientists said the coldest temperatures — as cold as minus 59 degrees Celsius — occur at around 5 am local time. The warmest temperatures have been minus five degrees Celsius.

When the sun heats up the Martian surface, scientists have observed strong convective overturning. “Think of a pot of water boiling — the water is overturning vigorously. That happens on Mars, too,” Banfield said. “The atmosphere near the ground bubbles up like a buoyant plume of air. It happens on Earth, too, but you don’t feel it as much. On Mars it happens with a lot more vigour,” he said.

In another surprise, mission scientists are observing many “dust devils” — those ghostly, low-pressure, tornado-like whirls of Martian soil. “On Earth, the desert’s dust devils would be likely 15 metres across and almost a kilometer tall. On Mars, they can be five to 10 kilometers tall. Big ones are 100 metres or more in diameter,” he said.