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Warm temperatures on Mars may improve chances for habitability

September 28, 2012|By Jon Bardin
  • The Mars rover Curiosity's weather station has collected some surprising data: It's much warmer on the surface than expected.
The Mars rover Curiosity's weather station has collected some surprising… (NASA via Getty Images )

Among the Mars rover Curiosity’s many gadgets and gizmos is a weather station, and since landing it has been showing some surprising numbers: Temperatures that are as high as 6 degrees Celsius (42.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

That’s substantially warmer than expected.

The temperatures on Mars’ surface are dramatically different during the day and during the night, when they drop to a frigid -70 degrees Celsius. That’s because Mars has a very thin atmosphere, so heat from the sun escapes after it sets.

The rover is currently located in the southern hemisphere of the planet, where it is springtime. That means summer is coming, and with it, potentially even warmer temperatures.

“That we are seeing temperatures this warm already during the day is a surprise,” said Felipe Gómez of the Centro de Astrobiología in Madrid, which runs the rover’s weather station, called the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station, or REMS, in a statement Friday. “If this warm trend carries on into summer, we might even be able to foresee temperatures in the 20s — and that would be really exciting from a habitability point of view. In the daytimes, we could see temperatures high enough for liquid water on a regular basis.”

Gómez says it is too early to know whether they are observing a real trend or just a “blip.” But for now, the data are giving the Mars rover team reason to take a break from shooting lasers at rocks and crafting painstaking courses across the planet’s surface to do something much more pedestrian: chit-chat about the weather.

Return to the Science Now blog.

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