InSight, What's the Weather on Mars?
Checking the weather is an ordinary task that many people do every day. In 2012, a study showed that 47 percent of smartphone users indicated that they used their device to check the weather. With information so readily available, it is easy to see why so many people are using their devices to access forecasts for Earth weather. Now, in 2019, it is just as easy and possible for people to look at the daily temperatures on Mars. On February 27th, or Sol 91 in Martian days, the high was 7 degrees Fahrenheit; the low was -137 degrees Fahrenheit. As cold as this winter may seem in some parts of the United States, at least it is warmer than Mars.
While NASA is associated with space exploration, it has also focused some of its efforts on better understanding our own planet from space. NASA’s Earth Observing System missions consist of various satellites that have launched since the 1990s. Of the twenty-six satellites that have been a part of the program, eighteen are still in orbit today gathering data on climate, wildfires, and other issues that can be detected from the atmosphere. NASA can also use this data, as well as data from other satellites, to enhance our ability to predict the weather. With decades of exploring Earth’s weather behind us, it was only logical that we start exploring the weather on other planets to a greater extent.
Other missions to Mars have been able to gather temperature data, but none of them could do so as quickly and effectively as InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport), which arrived on November 26, 2018. It is one of several new missions to land on Mars in recent years, joining the famous Pathfinder, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity missions. InSight’s primary goal is to investigate the inner surface and tectonic activity of Mars. Observing these things will give us a better understanding of how all the rocky inner planets formed. As far as temperature data is concerned, InSight collects data continuously, which is far more often than other active missions. It gathers information on air pressure, temperature, wind, and magnetic field changes. Its work could be valuable to the future of the other active missions and the missions that will follow it. Opportunity’s recent end of service was caused by a planet-wide dust storm, a phenomenon that is still not fully understood. InSight’s analysis could change that.
The weather reports come from a flat area called Elysium Planitia. The data can be viewed in a graphical format that displays averages of the collected data, as well as in a daily high-low temperature setup that is similar to the weather forecast interfaces most people are familiar with. While this information has little effect on our everyday lives besides making us grateful that we do not live on Mars, it is actually an effective way to help engage the general public with space exploration. It gives an ordinary person a fun way to interact with new applications of technology and major space missions. The inner surface information gathered from Mars will advance our ability to understand our own planet. However, the overall impact of this information may not be important for the average person. Having a way to see and appreciate the data in a familiar way helps bridge the gap between scientists and the general public when it comes to space exploration. It allows everyone to explore alien terrain and be part of humanity’s next steps into the universe.
The newest Mars missions attracted a significant amount of attention from the general public. The Curiosity Rover alone has 3.9 million followers and InSight has 696,000. For robots, that is a fairly impressive following. I know what both those robots are up to on any given week because NASA posts about it. Despite being an aerospace engineering major, I could not boast the same level of knowledge for the satellites that circle the Earth. If their Twitter accounts prove anything, it is that people do want to be a part of our journeys into space. Just as society rallied behind the moon landing or other manned missions, people empathize with the robots that have gone where we cannot go. People love engaging with the technology of the future, even if it is just as simple as checking the weather on another planet.
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