NASA’s car-sized robotic rover, Curiosity, has reached its second Martian year in the planet, about 687 Earth days. This completes the second cycle of exploration which recorded environmental patterns through two full cycles of Martian seasons.
The gathered data could help separate seasonal effects from sporadic events seem less often in the planet. For example, a large spike in methane in the local atmosphere during the first southern-hemisphere autumn in Gale Crater, Curiosity’s location, was not repeated during the second autumn and was qualified as a sporadic event yet not explained, according to a press release from NASA.
“Curiosity’s weather station has made measurements nearly every hour of every day, more than 34 million so far,” said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “The duration is important because it is the second time through the seasons that lets us see repeated patterns.”
The similarity among the seasons of Mars and the ones on Earth is that both planets have a yearly rhythm of them, but the differences are much more notorious. Temperatures between day and night were more extremes in the Red Planet.
During the time of the Martian year when temperatures at Gale Crater rose above freezing during the day, they plummet overnight below minus 139 F, due to the thin atmosphere, NASA stated. In addition, the more elliptical orbit of Mars, compared to Earth, exaggerated the southern hemisphere seasons by making them more dominant event at the exploration area near the equatorial location.
According to Germán Martínez, a Curiosity science team collaborator from Spain, Mars is much drier that Earth, and in particular Gale Crater, near the equator, is a very dry place on the planet. The water vapor content is a thousand to ten thousand times less than on Earth, he added.
During winter nights, Curiosity measured relative humidity, which is a function of both temperatures and water-vapor content. The measurement was up to 70 percent, high enough to prompt researchers to check for frost forming on the ground, although nothing was found.
For now, the NASA’s rover is not the only one interested in checking for information in the Red Planet. The Commission on Planetary Cartography launched a competition in April for the design of a Mars Exploration Zone Map, as reported by the Christian Science Monitor.
The peculiar and ambitious challenge comes months after the British cartographic company, Ordnance Survey, ventured off-planet for the first time and design its own map of Mar with its particular and iconic style.