How NASA’s Perseverance rover captures Martian atmospheric phenomena

Capturing atmospheric phenomena on Mars is challenging for the Perseverance rover because the rover’s daily operations are planned in advance.

Not only that, but as most of the atmospheric phenomena are short-lived and/or hard to predict, they go away before the rover is ready. However, atmospheric scientists on NASA’s Perseverance rover team use different strategies to observe them. 

Firstly, the instrument on the Perseverance rover which is dedicated to analyzing the Martian atmosphere, called MEDA (the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer), records atmospheric parameters like wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity, air temperature, ground temperature, etc. at least every hour. This gives us a very good chance of capturing short-lived and hard-to-predict atmospheric phenomena.

NASA's Perseverance rover captures drifting Martian clouds just before sunrise on March 18, 2023
NASA’s Perseverance rover captures drifting Martian clouds using one of its navigation cameras just before sunrise on March 18, 2023. Click here for animation. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Secondly, the team uses cameras and microphones on the Perseverance rover over multiple days at different times to generate statistics on when and where interesting events occur. 

Thirdly, when the team expects to see something unusual based on the time of year or location, they increase the cadence of measurements to make sure to capture that event.

NASA's Perseverance rover captures a solar halo on November 7, 2023
NASA’s Perseverance rover captures a solar halo using one of its navigation cameras on November 7, 2023. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s Perseverance rover was able to capture a bright ring around the sun called halo on November 7, 2023, after dozens of attempts in Mars’s cloudy season.

Finally, when a longer-lived rare event occurs, the team responds by taking additional observations.

Perseverance Rover has captured moving whirlwind on Mars planet
NASA’s Perseverance rover captures a Martian dust devil moving over the Jezero crater on August 30, 2023. Click here for animation. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Currently, there are lots of dust storms happening on Mars, and NASA’s Perseverance rover captures one of the dust devils when it passes over the Jezero crater, the place where the Perseverance rover is located on Mars. As a result, the team has been taking additional observations to know how atmospheric conditions are changing due to the storm activity.

Related article: NASA’s Perseverance Rover captures moving whirlwind on Mars planet 

So NASA’s Perseverance rover has been able to capture everything from Martian clouds to halos and from dust devils to dust storms.

The Perseverance rover landed on the Jezero crater of Mars on February 18, 2021, and since then, it’s still operating on Mars.

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About the Author

Ashim

Ashim Chandra Sarkar founded Space & Telescope in 2022. He holds a M.Sc. in physics and has five years of research experience in optical astronomy. His passion for astronomy inspired him to open this website. He is responsible for the editorial vision of spaceandtelescope.com.

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