What’s the weather on Mars? InSight can tell you every day

CNN —  

If daily weather forecasts for your part of the world weren’t enough, now you can get the weather report from Mars, thanks to NASA’s InSight stationary lander. Beginning Tuesday, InSight will provide a daily weather report everyone can see.

The report shares temperature, wind and air pressure recorded by the lander. It’s winter on Mars now, so the high temperature is 2 degrees Fahrenheit, with a low of minus 138. The winds have reached 37.8 miles per hour.

So if it’s cold where you live, rest assured that your temperature swings aren’t as rough as what InSight has to bear.

“The InSight lander is close to the Martian equator – just north of the equator – so it is experiencing Martian winter,” said Don Banfield in a statement, the mission’s lead for the lander’s meteorological sensors.

InSight has something that other missions to the Martian surface didn’t. The sensors, called the Auxiliary Payload Subsystem, can provide weather information around the clock, recording data each second of the day and sending it back to Earth.

The sensors are actually spares that were refurbished when building the Curiosity rover. They’re 10 times more sensitive than the ones used on the Viking and Pathfinder landers.

Inside the lander is an air pressure sensor, and the deck carries two wind and temperature sensors.

InSight was designed for a two-year mission, so this will provide scientists with unique information about seasonal changes on Mars. It will also give them a better sense of the noise that could disrupt data gathered by the heat flow probe and seismometer. The seismometer is especially sensitive to changes in air pressure as well as wind flow, and those could prevent it from doing its job: detecting quakes on Mars.

“It gives you the sense of visiting an alien place,” said Don Banfield, who leads InSight’s weather science from Cornell University, in a statement. “Mars has familiar atmospheric phenomena that are still quite different than those on Earth.”

The weather sensors can also help determine the amount of dust and sand that are lifted by the Martian winds. Currently, scientists don’t know how much wind it takes to lift dust from the surface or create dust storms.

Dust devils, or whirlwinds, leave streaks on the planet’s surface as they move, and the information gathered by InSight could help scientists study them. Dust devils are common in the spot where InSight landed, so it can watch and study them as they pass – even at a distance of hundreds of feet.

This information would be incredibly valuable, considering that a planet-encircling dust storm ended the Opportunity rover’s 15-year mission.