What’s the weather like on Mars today? Thanks to NASA’s new InSight lander, you can finally have an answer to this question you probably didn’t think you wanted to ask. The tool went live on Mars this week and provides daily, public weather reports, just like the reports here on Earth, according to NASA‘s press release.
The InSight lander provides data such as temperature, wind, and air pressure. For example, the latest stats show the weather on Mars on February 17: The average air temperature was -78 degrees Fahrenheit, the average wind speed was 12 miles per hour, and an average pressure of 723.1 pascals. The tool collects data on the surface of Mars at Elysium Planitia, which is a flat surface near Mars’ equator.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California developed the InSight lander with help from Cornell University and Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is currently leading the insight mission.
So, how does the weather tool work? According to NASA, several sensors in a package called the Auxiliary Payload Subsystem, or APSS, allow the tool to send more weather information than any other tool previously sent to Mars. Data is recorded for every day on Mars, called a sol (February 17 was Sol 81), and sent to Earth. It is important to note that new data may only be available on the public site every few days.
The InSight Lander also has a Twitter account for the latest updates.
Did you know I’m sending back daily weather reports from #Mars? Highs have been in the single (or negative) digits lately. Overnight lows — well, let’s just say I'm glad I brought thermal blankets. Brr!
— NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) February 19, 2019
The system is set to operate for the next two years, allowing for studies of seasonal changes.
Cornell University’s Don Banfield said that the tool can give everyone a sense of what life is like on another planet, whether they’re interested in science or not.
“It gives you the sense of visiting an alien place,” Banfield explained. “Mars has familiar atmospheric phenomena that are still quite different than those on Earth.”
The tool can also give scientists a better idea of Mars’ seismic patterns. Air pressure and wind often mask the movements of “marsquakes” (similar to earthquakes), making them difficult to detect.
“APSS will help us filter out environmental noise in the seismic data and know when we’re seeing a marsquake and when we aren’t,” Banfield continued. “By operating continuously, we’ll also see a more detailed view of the weather than most surface missions, which usually collect data only intermittently throughout a sol.”
The InSight lander has already detected an unexplained infrasound in its first active week, according to Forbes. Low-frequency infrasounds are typically too low for human ears to pick up, but according to Banfield, this infrasound’s amplitude was much bigger. Possible explanations include a meteor crashing into Mars’ atmosphere or a landslide. The InSight team will know more information about the infrasound with further analysis.
NASA’s InSight page shows this week’s weather conditions on Mars so far.