The weather often plays a role in our daily plans. You can put on a light jacket when the forecast calls for a cool breeze or delay your travel plans due to an impending storm. NASA engineers also use weather data to inform their plans, which is why they are analyzing conditions millions of miles away on Mars.
The Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) system aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover first turned on for 30 minutes on February 19, about a day after the rover landed on the Red Planet. Around 8:25 p.m. PST that same day, engineers received initial data from MEDA.
“After a nail-biting landing and descent phase, our MEDA team was eagerly awaiting the first data that would confirm that our instrument landed safely,” said José Antonio Rodríguez Manfredi, MEDA principal investigator at the Astrobiology Center (CAB) of the National Institute. of Tecnica Aeroespacial in Madrid.
“These were moments of great intensity and excitement. Finally, after years of work and planning, we received the first MEDA data report. Our system was alive and sending its first meteorological data and images from SkyCam.”
MEDA weighs approximately 12 pounds (5.5 kilograms) and contains a suite of environmental sensors to record dust levels and six atmospheric conditions: wind (speed and direction), pressure, relative humidity, air temperature, ground temperature, and radiation. (both from the Sun and space). The system automatically wakes up every hour and, after recording and storing data, goes to sleep regardless of mobile operations. The system records data whether the mobile is awake or not, both day and night.
When engineers received the first MEDA data points on Earth, the team put together their first weather report from Jezero crater on Mars. The data showed that it was just below minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 degrees Celsius) on the surface when the system began recording, and that the temperature dropped to minus 14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 25.6 degrees Celsius) in 30 minutes. .
MEDA’s radiation and dust sensor showed that Jezero was experiencing a cleaner atmosphere than Gale Crater at around the same time, roughly 3,700 kilometers away, according to reports from the Environmental Monitoring Station Rover (REMS) aboard the Curiosity rover. parked inside Gale. And MEDA’s pressure sensors told engineers that the pressure on Mars was 718 Pascals, well within the range of 705-735 Pascals predicted by their models for that time on Mars.
Closing the atmospheric gap
Thanks to telescopes here on Earth and spacecraft orbiting Mars, scientists have a good understanding of the Red Planet’s climate and even an idea of the magnitude of dust storms throughout a single Martian year ( two Earth years). However, predicting the uplift and transport of dust, or how small storms grow into large ones that surround the entire planet, will benefit future science and exploration missions.
Over the next year, MEDA will provide valuable information on temperature cycles, heat fluxes, dust cycles, and how dust particles interact with light, ultimately affecting both temperature and climate. Just as important will be MEDA readings of solar radiation intensity, cloud formations and local winds that could inform the design of the planned Mars sample return mission. In addition, the measurements will help engineers better understand how to prepare humans and habitats to cope with the conditions on Mars.
REMS aboard the Curiosity rover currently provides similar daily atmospheric and meteorological data. MEDA, conceived through an international collaboration, is based on the REMS autonomous weather station configuration and features some updates.
The system was provided by Spain and developed by CAB with contributions from the Finnish Meteorological Institute. Contributions from the US were funded by the Game Changing Development program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
With increased overall durability and additional temperature readings, MEDA can record temperature at three atmospheric heights: 2.76 feet (0.84 meters), 4.76 feet (1.45 meters), and 98.43 feet (30 meters). ), in addition to the surface temperature.
The system uses sensors on the rover’s body and mast and an infrared sensor capable of measuring temperature almost 100 feet above the rover. MEDA also records the near-surface radiation budget, which will help prepare for future human exploration missions to Mars.
With MEDA weather reports, engineers now have atmospheric data from three different locations on the Red Planet: Perseverance, Curiosity, and NASA’s InSight lander, which houses the temperature and wind sensors for InSight (TWINS).
The trio will allow a deeper understanding of Martian weather patterns, events, and atmospheric turbulence that could influence future mission planning. In the short term, MEDA information is helping to decide the best atmospheric conditions for the Ingenuity Mars helicopter flights.
When Ingenuity reached the pre-flight milestones, a MEDA report from the 43rd and 44th Martian days, or suns, of the mission (April 3-4 on Earth) showed a high temperature of minus 7.6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 22 degrees Celsius) and goes down. minus 117.4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 83 degrees Celsius) in Jezero Crater. MEDA also measured wind gusts at around 22 mph (10 meters per second).
“We are very excited to see that MEDA works well,” said Manuel de la Torre Juárez, MEDA deputy principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
“The MEDA reports will provide a better picture of the environment near the surface. The MEDA data and other instrument experiments will reveal more pieces of the puzzle on Mars and help prepare for human exploration. We hope your data will help strengthen our designs and our safest missions. “
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