NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander touched down on the Martian surface less than three months ago, and it has already realized a plethora of essential milestones. The deployment of the SEIS (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure) instrument for marsquake detection was one, and the placement of a complementary heat shield to protect it from the elements was another. On the other hand, the InSight mission is comprised of many analytical instruments; not just a seismometer.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
As some might recall, it was just shortly after InSight made its landing that NASA received signals from it that could only be described as the sound of Martian wind. While some of that information came by way of InSight’s SEIS instrument, the bulk came from InSight’s integrated air pressure sensor, which is just one of the mission’s supplementary devices encompassed by the Auxiliary Payload Subsystem (APSS).
InSight’s APSS sensor suite is responsible for reporting Martian weather conditions to NASA such that scientists can filter “sources of noise” that would otherwise sully vital information recorded by InSight’s other instruments. For example, wind can generate vibrations that can throw off seismometer-centric marsquake detections, and changes in surface temperature can throw off readings apprehended by InSight’s heat flow probe.
Although meteorology wasn’t the primary purpose of the InSight lander’s APSS sensor suite, that hasn’t stopped NASA from going above and beyond initial intentions to make the mission more fun for everyone. Starting Tuesday, avid NASA fans can visit a new web page on the space agency’s website to see a daily weather report encompassing Mars’ weather conditions.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mars is a chilly place. APSS reported a high of 2° Fahrenheit on Sunday, February 17th, with an average temperature of -78° and a low of -138°. The data also shows that wind gusts peaked at 37.8 miles per hour, with an average speed of 12 miles per hour and a minimum speed of 1.1 miles per hour. The data records go as far back as Monday, February 11th.
"It gives you the sense of visiting an alien place. Mars has familiar atmospheric phenomena that are still quite different than those on Earth," explained InSight weather science lead, Don Banfield.
"APSS will help us filter out environmental noise in the seismic data and know when we're seeing a marsquake and when we aren't. By operating continuously, we'll also see a more detailed view of the weather than most surface missions, which usually collect data only intermittently throughout a sol."
Following extraplanetary weather conditions might not be everybody’s forte, but it’s still neat to see NASA publishing this information for the general public to see rather than keeping everything to themselves.