NASA’s Perseverance rover has provided scientists with new insights into the dynamic weather on Mars, thanks to its Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) sensor suite. The sensors, which were built by Spanish scientists led by José Antonio Rodríguez-Manfredi of the Centre for Astrobiology in Madrid, are able to measure temperature, wind, radiation, dust, humidity, and air pressure on the Red Planet.
According to the weather report for the project’s first 250 sols (Martian days), the atmosphere near the planet’s surface is far more dynamic than previously thought. The average air temperature at Jezero, the rover’s landing site in the Jezero Crater, was recorded as minus 67 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 55 degrees Celsius), but this can vary by as much as 90 to 110 degrees F (50 to 60 degrees C) between day and night. The wind and air pressure also fluctuate, with strong south-easterly gusts of 82 feet (25 m) per second around midday, weaker winds of 23 feet (7 m) per second in the afternoon, and a wind-direction reversal at night.
The sensor suite also revealed the presence of dust devils passing over the rover and the accompanying change in air pressure, which was found to be more abundant at Jezero than elsewhere on Mars. These whirlwinds can form to be more than 100 meters (330 feet) in diameter.
Understanding Mars’ present-day atmosphere is crucial not only for scientific curiosity, but also for future missions landing on the planet. The 10 sample canisters left on the ground by Perseverance will be constantly exposed to the atmospheric conditions for many years, and the future mission meant to retrieve them is currently scheduled to land on the Red Planet in 2031.
The findings were published on Jan. 9 in the journal Nature Geoscience, providing a deeper understanding of the Martian weather and its impact on future missions to the planet. The Perseverance Rover continues to collect data and scientists expect to learn much more about the planet’s dynamic weather in the coming months and years.
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