On February 18, 2021, the Perseverance rover landed in the Jezero crater on Mars. Shortly thereafter, it turned on some of the scientific instruments that it will use to conduct scientific operations and look for possible past life evidence. One such instrument is the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA), which was turned on for 30 minutes and issued the rover’s first weather report from Mars.
The forecast? Bitter cold! Basically the temperature was lower than expected on a hard and windy winter night here on earth! According to data returned by the rover, received by the heads of mission at 5:25 p.m. EST (8:25 p.m. PST), the local temperature around Octavia E. Bulter’s landing in Jezero crater was -20 ° C (-4 ° F) when MEDA began recording and then dropped to -25.6 ° C (-14 ° F) within 30 minutes.
The MEDA instrument weighs approximately 5.5 kg and contains a number of sensors that can be used to analyze the weather on Mars by recording dust levels and six atmospheric conditions – wind speed and direction, air pressure, relative humidity, air temperature, ground temperature , and radiation (both from the sun and from space). The system wakes up every hour and goes to sleep independently after recording and saving data.
Images showing the use of the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA). Photo credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
On February 19, MEDA turned on for 30 minutes and sent the first data points from the instrument back to Earth, allowing NASA engineers to compile the first weather report from Mars. Dr. Jose Antonio Rodriguez-Manfredi, an engineer at the Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) at the Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aeroespacial (INTA) in Madrid, is also the main researcher of the MEDA instrument. As he recently reported in a NASA press release:
“After an exciting entry and landing phase, our MEDA team was eagerly awaiting the first data that would confirm that our instrument landed safely. These were moments of great intensity and excitement. After years of work and planning, we finally received the first data report from MEDA. Our system was alive and sending its first meteorological data and images from the SkyCam. “
The MEDA instrument is similar to the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) on board the Curiosity Rover, which provides similar daily weather and atmospheric data from its position in Gale Crater. MEDA was developed by the CAB with contributions from the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) and NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) and builds on the autonomous weather functions of REMS with some additional functions and updates.
These provide a longer life for MEDA and allow it to get additional temperature and radiation readings from the surface and atmospheric readings for altitudes up to 30.5 m (100 ft). After comparing the radiation and dust values from MEDA with the values obtained from REMS, the engineers found that the atmospheric conditions in the Jezero crater were cleaner than in the Gale crater, about 3,700 km away.
Artist’s impression of the Perseverance Rover on Mars. Photo credit: NASA-JPL
A subsequent report, based on data collected on April 3rd and 4th (Sols 43 and 44), showed a temperature high of -22 ° C and a low of -83 ° C in the Jezero crater. In addition, MEDA’s sensors have measured gusts of wind at around 10 m / s (22 mph) and air pressure values of 718 Pascals (7.18 millibars) – less than 1% of the Earth’s atmosphere – and thus well within the predicted Mars range of 705- 735 Pascal located climate models.
These readings are part of a larger effort to characterize Martian atmosphere and weather patterns that will reveal how the planet has experienced significant climate changes over time. Manuel de la Torre Juárez, deputy chief investigator for MEDA at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said:
“We are very pleased that MEDA is working well. MEDA’s reports will provide a better picture of the near-surface environment. Data from MEDA and other instrumental experiments will reveal more pieces of the puzzle on Mars and help prepare for human exploration. We hope that his data will help strengthen our designs and make our missions safer. “
So far, thanks to the many landers, rovers, and orbiters that have analyzed it over the past few decades, scientists have learned a great deal about the Martian climate and the magnitude of its annual dust storms. However, there are still many factors that scientists do not fully understand that would help them predict future storms (e.g., dust lifting and transport, and how small storms develop into planet-wide storms).
Image of Mars’ Ingenuity helicopter captured by the Perseverance rover. Photo credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
Over the next year, MEDA will provide valuable insights into Martian weather patterns by measuring temperature and dust cycles, how dust particles interact with light, solar radiation, local winds and cloud formations. Thanks to these weather reports, engineers now have atmospheric data from three locations on the planet – Jezero Crater, Gale Crater and Elysium Planitia (where the InSight lander is stationed).
This trio and the data they collect will enable a deeper understanding of Martian weather patterns and atmospheric phenomena. This information could prove crucial in planning future missions. For example, they help the Perseverance team to determine when the atmospheric conditions are ideal for flights with the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter.
These will also help with the design of NASA-ESA’s planned Mars sample return mission, in which samples collected and cached by the Perseverance rover will be accessed. Last but not least, the temperature, radiation and weather data provided by MEDA will help prepare astronauts for future crewed missions to Mars (currently planned for the 2030s) and support the design of habitats for scientific operations on the surface.
For more information on the Perseverance Rover’s instruments and their purpose, visit the NASA mission page.
Further reading: NASA