Mars Climate Sounder movies!
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla
03-07-2007 13:09 CDT
I've just posted some new movies made by the Mars Climate Sounder team on the team's website, which we host here at The Planetary Society. Mars Climate Sounder is not a camera, so it can be tough to visualize what their data means. Now, instead of static graphs, you can see how Mars Climate Sounder builds up a 3-D view of what's going on in Mars' atmosphere, as Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter circles the planet in its 2-hour orbit. There are two movies, representing data from different times of year, and you can see how features in Mars' atmosphere have shifted with the seasons. I don't think the Mars Climate Sounder team knows yet what changes happen every Mars season, and what changes have more to do with the kinds of chaotic weather patterns that we're so familiar with (and, often, still can't predict) on Earth.
To explain what the movies show, it might help you to look at the update on the Mars Climate Sounder instrument status that I posted earlier this year, which included a bunch of graphs that looked like this:Each of these plots shows about two orbits' worth of data, but it may not be easy for you to see where on Mars the data was supposed to have come from. The new movies I just posted show you exactly where Mars Climate Sounder was looking as it stared forward along its orbit to view Mars' atmosphere, with Mars spinning underneath it all the while. Here's a still from one of the movies: Unlike Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's other instruments, particularly the HiRISE camera and CRISM spectrometer, the Mars Climate Sounder team doesn't get instant gratification from their data. The quicklook plots are a first step to visualize what the data means, orbit by orbit. These movies help place that data in spatial context. Eventually, the team will develop models that will enable them to construct four-dimensional (three spatial plus one temporal) data sets on the pressure and temperature in the Martian atmosphere, as well as the distribution of dust, carbon dioxide, water, and other important atmospheric constituents; but those higher-level data products are still many months, possibly years, from completion. And even when they're done, they'll only show us a relative snapshot of Mars' weather, covering just one Mars year. Just consider how much the weather varies from year to year where you live, and you'll understand why this is just the beginning of our investigation into Mars' weather.
Which reminds me: Mars Climate Sounder is just beginning this investigation, but that's not to say they haven't gathered much data. Mars Climate Sounder Science Manager Jim Shirley told me that as of June 20, Mars Climate Sounder has returned more than 107 -- that is to say, ten million soundings of Mars' atmosphere. By any measure, that's a huge number!
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