NASA unveils daily Mars weather reports

Illustration of In Sight probe with its two main instruments deployed a heat probe and seismometer. Credit NASA

Illustration of In Sight probe with its two main instruments deployed a heat probe and seismometer. Credit NASA

Beginning Tuesday, February 19, 2019, NASA's InSight lander will provide a daily report of atmospheric weather conditions on Mars.

When you're getting ready in the morning and need to know whether to wear a jacket or not you probably just tap your smartphone screen a few times and bring up a local weather report.

An artist's impression of the InSight lander on Mars.

Thanks to a package of sensors dubbed the Auxiliary Payload System (APSS), InSight will give more weather updates than any previous mission to the Red Planet.

InSight has something that other missions to the Martian surface didn't.

The sensors are actually spares that were refurbished when building the Curiosity rover.

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Scientists plan to keep the lander operating for the next two Earth years in order to monitor potential changes in seasons.

APSS includes an air pressure sensor inside the lander and two air temperature and wind sensors on the lander's deck. 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. "Mars has familiar atmospheric phenomena that are still quite different than those on Earth", said Cornell University's Dr. Don Banfield.

The sensors will also help the seismometer team determine if the instrument is picking up actual marsquakes, or if the instrument might instead be impacted by environmental events.

Researchers also hope to get a better understanding of storms on the planet, learning how much wind it takes to lift dust in the planet's atmosphere.

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. While they give the public a fun peek into Mars' weather, they'll let NASA study seasonal changes and dust devil activity.

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