The weather on Mars is clear and very cold

The Canadian Mars-Phoenix team, led by York University, issued its first Mars weather report yesterday, made public during a NASA media briefing at 2pm EDT.

Phoenix’s first day on Mars was sunny and clear, with temperatures ranging between -80 C in the early morning, and -30 C in the afternoon. Wind speed was 20 kilometres/hour, out of the northeast. Pressure was 8.5 millibars – less than one percent of the sea-level pressure on Earth.

To view the Sol 1 Mars-Phoenix weather report, click here.

The Canadian team is receiving daily weather reports from Phoenix’s Canadian-built meteorological station for the duration of the 90-day mission. Phoenix, a joint project of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories and the University of Arizona, landed on Mars on May 25, at 7:38pm EDT. The weather station was activated within the first hour after landing.

"Measurements are now being recorded continuously, and will expand to include humidity and visibility," says Jim Whiteway, professor of space engineering at York and the principal investigator for the Canadian team. 

More instruments will be activated over the coming days, including the Canadian team’s laser-based-light-detecting-and-ranging (lidar) system. The lidar will shoot pulses of laser light into the Martian sky, precisely measuring components of the atmosphere such as dust, ground fog and clouds, from the surface up to a range of 20 km. This is the first time such data has been collected.

Phoenix is the first scout mission to study the Martian ice cap. In addition to gathering atmospheric data, the lander will attempt to dig to an ice-rich layer believed to lie very close to the planet’s surface, allowing scientists to gather evidence about climate cycles and investigate whether the environment on Mars has been favorable for microbial life.

The meteorological component of the mission is a collaboration led by York University, in partnership with the University of Alberta, Dalhousie University, the University of Aarhus in Denmark, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, MDA Space Missions, and Optech Inc., with $37 million in funding from the Canadian Space Agency. 

Phoenix media briefings are streamed live on the NASA TV Web site.