UAE’s Hope probe gives new insight into temperatures on Mars

The spacecraft has been orbiting the planet since February last year

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Researchers at New York University Abu Dhabi have used the Hope probe’s data to measure the surface temperature of Mars more extensively.

The new study measured the surface temperature of the entire planet, including its daily and seasonal variations.

Nasa orbiters and rovers have made such measurements before, but Hope’s unique placement in Mars' orbit – which is much higher up than others – allows it to see various parts of the planet during different times of the day.

The findings were published in the Monthly Reviews of the Royal Astronomy Society, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, on August 12.

Hope is the first Arab spacecraft to journey to Mars.

Built by Emirati engineers, along with three US universities, it has been orbiting the planet since February 9, 2021.

Dimitra Atri, research scientist at the NYUAD's Centre for Space Science and the lead author of the study, told The National that they used Hope’s infrared spectrometer instrument, also called EMIRS, to make the measurements.

“We, for the first time, measured the surface temperature of the entire planet, and its daily and seasonal variations, using data from the UAE's Hope probe,” he said.

“Due to Hope's unique orbit, we, for the first time were able to measure the temperature at all local times for most of the planet.

“This was not possible earlier because other orbiters are at a highly elliptical orbit and unlike Hope, they only measure a very small fraction of the planet at once.

“While doing the analysis, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of data, so much so that we were able choose any point on the planet and get the daily and seasonal variation of temperature.”

The researchers found that the average surface temperature of Mars ranges between 140 Kelvin to 280 Kelvin, or -133°C to 7°C.

The observations by Hope were compared with data from Nasa’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers, which are deployed on the Red Planet’s surface.

“Since I already work with both of these rovers, I knew that Curiosity's REMS instrument and Perseverance's MEDA instrument also continuously measure the surface temperature of Mars at Gale crater and Jezero crater, respectively,” Dr Atri said.

“So, I decided to compare the temperature we measured from the orbit with measurements from the surface.

“Overall, we found an excellent agreement among the three missions.”

Colder nights on Red Planet

However, Hope’s data showed that Mars could be colder at night than previously thought.

Dr Atri and his team are currently doing more research to determine whether these specific findings were accurate, or if there were factors that interfered with the measurements.

“There are some minor discrepancies, which we are trying to resolve and will lead to better estimation of global temperature data from Hope,” he said.

Mars has a very thin atmosphere and cannot retain heat. For decades, scientists have been trying to understand how the planet lost its atmosphere, making it impossible for it to host life.

Four sets of data captured by the Hope probe, totalling 118.5 gigabytes, have been released to the public since it arrived on Mars.

The observations have also helped Dr Atri create an atlas of the Red Planet, which aims to show how Mars changes over time.

The Atlas was released in English and in Arabic.

In December, the orbiter tracked a massive dust storm on Mars for more than two weeks, helping to show how quickly they can spread across the planet.

The rapidly evolving regional dust storm in late December had expanded to a size of several thousand kilometres.

Dust storms on Mars cause extremely turbulent weather. They can be up to 30 kilometres high and cover the entire planet.

The storms can be seen from space, making the planet appear as a bright ball of red.

Scientists hope that by studying them they can gain further insight into how they are drying out the planet by helping Martian water escape the planet's atmosphere.

Hope used a high-resolution camera and an infrared spectrometer to document the storm’s growth and dissipation.

The instruments revealed the thermal conditions of the planet’s surface and lower atmosphere, giving details about the geographic distribution of dust, water vapour, water and carbon dioxide ice clouds.

Updated: August 20, 2022, 7:26 AM
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