Weather Report: Mars

Mars weather view
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter makes a daily, global map of the Red Planet’s surface and weather. Here, thick water ice clouds cling to towering volcanic summits on June 5, 2012. Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Bill Dunford

Mars is synonymous with mystery and alienness. And yet…there is often something about it that reminds of home. One thing Mars shares with Earth is weather: not just wind and dust storms, but clouds that come and go with the seasons.

Astronomers have glimpsed changes stirring in the Martian atmosphere for generations, and wondered exactly what was happening. Now we can do better, a lot better. In fact, a daily global weather report comes down from Mars routinely, thanks to a camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

The above scene from a particularly cloudy Martian day in June of last year was assembled by a team at Malin Space Science Systems, the company that built the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) camera that captures the daily global view from on board MRO. MARCI sends hundreds of images of the surface, which are then assembled into a mosaic and map projected onto a globe.

This image, like most of the global views, originally included a few small blank areas where data was lost or the spacecraft was performing a navigation maneuver. I’ve patched those areas in using data from days just before and after the main images were captured.

You can see a weekly animation of the latest Martian weather conditions on the Malin site.

Note: This post is also available at The Planetary Society web site, where I’m delighted to be a new guest blogger.

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