Published : Friday, February 22, 2019 | 1:56 AM
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena said the public can now get a daily weather report – at least in terms of temperature, wind and air pressure – from Mars, courtesy of NASA’s InSight lander, which JPL manages for NASA’s Mission Directorate.
As a sample, highs were 2 degrees on the planet on Sunday, February 17, and lows were negative 130.
Wind was mostly southwest at an average 12 miles per hour throughout the day – or sol, the Martian solar day.
That sol, the air pressure was an average 723.1 Pascals, or about 5.4 mmHg (millimeters of mercury).
JPL said Sunday’s weather was typical for the lander’s location during late northern winter.
The public Martian weather page – which JPL developed and is accessible at www.mars.nasa.gov/insight/weather – includes stats on temperature, wind and air pressure recorded by InSight.
Through a package of sensors called the Auxiliary Payload Subsystem (APSS), InSight is now able to provide more around-the-clock weather information than any previous mission to the Martian surface. The lander records the weather data during each second of every sol and sends it to Earth on a daily basis. The spacecraft is designed to continue that operation for at least the next two Earth years, allowing it to study seasonal changes as well.
APSS includes an air pressure sensor inside the lander and two air temperature and wind sensors on the lander’s deck. Under the edge of the deck is a magnetometer, provided by UCLA, which will measure changes in the local magnetic field. It is the first magnetometer ever placed on the surface of another planet.
NASA said the tool will be geeky fun for meteorologists but offers everyone who uses it a chance to be transported to another planet.
“It gives you the sense of visiting an alien place,” said Don Banfield of Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, who leads InSight’s weather science. “Mars has familiar atmospheric phenomena that are still quite different than those on Earth.”
InSight’s air temperature and wind sensors are actually refurbished spares originally built for Curiosity’s Rover Environment Monitoring Station or REMS. These two east- and west-facing booms sit on the lander’s deck and are calledTemperature and Wind for InSight (TWINS), provided by Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología.
TWINS will be used to tell the team when strong winds could interfere with small seismic signals. But it could also be used, along with InSight’s cameras, to study how much dust and sand blow around and to detect “dust devils,” which are essentially low-pressure whirlwinds that have been creating streaks on the planet’s surface.
“Our data has already shown there are a lot of dust devils at our location,” Banfield said. “Having such a sensitive pressure sensor lets us see more of them passing by.”