Fieldwork in the Atacama Desert, Chile

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Mars by numbers

At the moment my current task at work is to wade through masses of data collected and sent back down by the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) on the Curiosity Rover and try to figure out some of what’s going on up there and how it relates to our project (which I can’t talk about yet as we’re trying to get it published). 

One of Curiosity's selfies taken at Mount Sharp (from NASA

All of the data collected by the various instruments on Mar’s chemistry, climate, geology, etc are freely accessible to anyone. So far there are nearly 1130 sol’s (Martian day’s) worth of data, with hundreds of different experiments carried out over that period. That’s a lot to get through! Although so far I’ve only really been looking at a particular kind of geochemical analysis technique (again, can’t say which) but there is so much more, some of which nobodies probably had the time to properly look at yet. All of the big released photos of the Martian landscape are actually stitched together from many smaller shots taken by Curiosity and they are also all available to download in high resolution.

What I have been able to do is plot daily climate conditions from the Rover's weather station' to look at the changes in temperature and humidity over the Martian sol. This is a plot of the weather on the 183 sol since curiosity landed on Mars.

The nighttime temperatures going down to -70 C are not far off the coldest temperatures ever recorded at Earth's South Pole (around -80 C), however, this is a pretty typical Spring day near the Equator of Mars (Curiosity's landing site, Gale Crater, is 4.6 degrees south). And with daytime temperatures close to 0 C this is a huge range throughout the day.The measured relative humidities (RH) are much lower than the driest place on Earth, the Atacama desert, where the most arid parts have an average RH of around 17 %. However, Curiosity has recorded nighttime Winter RH values of up to 70 %, high enough for frost to form, showing the wide range of potential conditions at the landing site.

With all this available data online you've got to wonder how all the people who are convinced that NASA is hiding evidence of aliens on Mars still believe that. Surely it'd be a lot easier to just not bother 'faking' sending a Rover up and then have to then make up this huge amount of data? 

I think it’s pretty cool that anybody can download and play about with data that’s cost billions to produce and has been created over 30 million miles away on another planet. Delving into this resource is the closest most (if not all) of us will get to exploring another world.


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