The Jezero Crater on Mars as seen from the NASA Perseverance Rover

The Perseverance rover is sending weather reports back from Mars

Because one day, astronauts will need something to talk about.

And now for the weather …from Mars. NASA scientists have analysed the first meteorological reports recorded by its Perseverance rover on the Red Planet. The short version: if you’re planning to spend some time at the Jezero Crater, you’ll need a coat (yes, and a spacesuit) because it’s -20°C on a warm day.

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The rover, which landed in February, is equipped with a planet-hopping weather station called the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA). Its sensors record wind speed and direction, air and ground temperature, as well as pressure, humidity and radiation. Its first measurements were taken the day after it landed and MEDA wakes itself up every hour to take fresh readings.

The forecast: cold with strong gusts and an ever-present risk of a dust storm. Perseverance has recorded lows of -83°C and wind speeds of 22mph. Over the next year, it will give NASA scientists useful information such as temperature cycles, dust patterns, solar radiation readings and cloud formations.

The Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer
Roving weather reporter: the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer, photographed before launch © NASA/JPL-Caltech

Just like we check our weather apps before heading out for a walk, the data will help engineers plan the rover’s movements and experiments, including flights of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. It will also be important for future crewed missions to the Red Planet – and not just to give astronauts something to talk about. Understanding how conditions fluctuate over time will inform things like the kinds of habitat required.

“We’re very excited to see MEDA working well,” said Manuel de la Torre Juárez, deputy principal investigator for MEDA at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “MEDA’s reports will provide a better picture of the environment near the surface. Data from MEDA and other instrument experiments will reveal more pieces of the puzzles on Mars and help prepare for human exploration. We hope that its data will help make our designs stronger and our missions safer.”

It’s not the first time scientists have received weather reports from Mars. Two other rovers – Curiosity and the InSight Lander – have sent home meteorological data from their landing sites. Together with MEDA’s forecasts, as well as satellite and telescope data, these are helping scientists build a complete picture of weather patterns on the Red Planet.

The SkyCam aboard the NASA Perseverance Rover
The SkyCam aboard the NASA Perseverance Rover, which photographs cloud patterns overhead © NASA/JPL-Caltech

Read more about the Perseverance rover:

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Will humans evolve to adapt to Mars?

Asked by: Claire Price, Merthyr Tydfil

Evolve by natural selection? Definitely not. Genes to help deal with radiation and low gravity aren’t impossible, and eventually humans would probably evolve these adaptations. But evolution won’t help us with the Martian atmosphere. Natural selection needs an environment that kills the weak but lets the strong survive. Mars has almost no atmosphere and none of it is oxygen, which means that it is 100 per cent fatal to everyone. You’ll have three minutes to evolve to breathe CO2 before you suffocate, and after that you won’t make any further contribution to the gene pool. Even if you kept Mars colonists inside a pressurised dome and ever so gradually reduced the pressure and oxygen concentration over hundreds of thousands of years, it wouldn’t help us to evolve.

Natural selection might evolve better and better ways to manage on what little oxygen there was, but it is never going to give us cells that don’t need oxygen at all. We burned that evolutionary bridge two billion years ago. We will adapt to life on Mars by using technology, and it would actually be easier and faster to add oxygen to the Martian atmosphere, than for us to evolve to live without it!