On Mars there is a new meteorologist. Although the NASA InSight spacecraft landed on the red planet late in 201
which includes not only daily high and low temperatures, but also unprecedented wind speed, direction, and wind time data for the InSight location near the equator in Elysium Planitia. "We thought this was something people could have fun," said Don Banfield of Cornell University, who heads InSight's science.
Other spacecraft brought comparable temperature and wind sensors to Mars, but no one was wearing such a precision air pressure sensor. The new sensor is 10 times more sensitive than any previous tool, because InSight has to detect slight movements in the ground on Mars, and from such movements to retrieve details of the interior of the red planet. To this end, the weather conditions are very thin – typically ranging between 700 and 740 on the surface, less than one percent of the Earth's surface pressure, but can still cause slight slopes on the surface of Mars. The air pressure sensor will therefore help scientists calibrate the earth's offshore so that any tilt due to higher or lower air pressure can be filtered out of the data. In fact, it is quite amazing that even such a thin atmosphere can have a slight effect on the Martian surface and that the InSight's pointer is sensitive enough to detect it. As InSight landed in November last year, Banfield and other scientists are eager to study data from the air pressure sensor and have made several discoveries. Some were expected as gravitational waves in the Martian atmosphere. The instrument measures these repetitive oscillations in the atmosphere at night. Such gravity waves are also observed in the Earth's atmosphere, especially when a mountain or island obstructs a uniform air mass.
But scientists have also discovered something mysterious in the pressure data on the surface of Mars. Twice on the Martian Day, about 7 am and 7 pm, there is a hiccup in what else should be a smooth rise and fall of surface pressure. Initially, scientists believed that this had to be caused by something on the trigger, but eventually they were able to exclude a cause caused by an instrument's InSight anomaly or source of heating.