Every year during Mars’ summer solstice, a cloud of water ice forms on the leeward side of Arsia Mons, one of Mars’ largest extinct volcanoes. The cloud can grow to be up to 1800 km (1120 miles) long. It forms each morning, then disappears the same day, only to reappear the next morning. Researchers have named it the Arsia Mons Elongated Cloud (AMEC).
India’s national space agency – the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) – has come a long way in recent years. In 2008, the agency launched its first lunar explorer, Chandrayaan-1, which also deployed a lander (the Moon Impact Probe) to the surface. And then there was the Mangalayaan mission – aka. the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) – which made history on Sept. 24th, 2014, when it became the first probe to enter orbit around Mars on the first try.
In their latest feat, the ISRO established a new record for the number of satellites launched in a single mission. In what was the thirty-ninth launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), the organization deployed 104 satellites into orbit. In so doing, they have effectively overtaken the previous record of 37 – which was established by Roscosmos in June of 2014.
This launch was also the thirty eighth successful mission in a row for the PSLV. which has been in service since the early 1990s. Prior to this flight, the rocket had successfully launched a total of 71 satellites and spacecraft – 31 of which were Indian – into a variety of orbits. The most satellites it launched at one time was 20, which took place on June 22nd, 2016, with the launch of the PSLV-C34 mission.
Hence, it has not only beaten its own record this single launch (and by a factor of five, no less), but more than doubled the total amount of satellites it has deployed. This mission also pushed the total number of Indian-made satellites sent into space aboard the PSLV rocket to 46, and the number of customer satellites that India has launched to 180.
“PSLV-C37 lifted off at 0928 hrs (9:28 am) IST, as planned, from the First Launch Pad. After a flight of 16 minutes 48 seconds, the satellites achieved a polar Sun Synchronous Orbit of 506 km inclined at an angle of 97.46 degree to the equator (very close to the intended orbit) and in the succeeding 12 minutes, all the 104 satellites successfully separated from the PSLV fourth stage in a predetermined sequence beginning with Cartosat-2 series satellite, followed by INS-1 and INS-2.”
Shortly after the launch, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, took to Twitter to congratulate the scientists and laud the space agency for its record-breaking accomplishment. “This remarkable feat by @isro is yet another proud moment for our space scientific community and the nation. India salutes our scientists,” he tweeted. “Congratulations to @isro for the successful launch of PSLV-C37 and CARTOSAT satellite together with 103 nano satellites!”
The cargo consisted of a Cartosat-2 Series Satellite, which is the latest in a series of ISRO Earth-observation satellites. In the coming days, the satellite will position itself and begin to provide remote sensing services using its state-of-the-art panchromatic (PAN) camera – which takes black and white pictures of the Earth in the visible and EM spectrum – and its multi-spectral (color) cameras.
In addition, two technology demonstration satellites from India were deployed – the Nano Satellite-1 (INS-1) and INS-2. The remaining 101 co-passenger satellites were all the property of the ISRO’s international customers – with 96 coming from the US, and five coming from the Netherlands, Switzerland, Israel, Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates, respectively.
In addition to demonstrating the capability of India’s launch workhorse, this latest mission also shows the growing importance countries like India play in the modern space age. In the coming years, the ISRO hopes to commence its proposed human spaceflight program, which if successful will make it the fourth nation to conduct crewed missions to space (alongside NASA, Roscosmos, and China).
And be sure to check out the video below for footage of the PSLV-C37 mission’s liftoff and on-board camera video:
Establishing a human settlement on Mars has been the fevered dream of space agencies for some time. Long before NASA announced its “Journey to Mars” – a plan that outlined the steps that need to be taken to mount a manned mission by the 2030s – the agency’s was planning how a crewed mission could lead to the establishing of stations on the planet’s surface. And it seems that in the coming decades, this could finally become a reality.
But when it comes to establishing a permanent colony – another point of interest when it comes to Mars missions – the coming decades might be a bit too soon. Such was the message during a recent colloquium hosted by NASA’s Future In-Space Operations (FISO) working group. Titled “Selecting a Landing Site for Humans on Mars”, this presentation set out the goals for NASA’s manned mission in the coming decades.
Mars represents something of a conundrum for scientists. In many respects, it is significantly different from Earth. It’s cold, it’s dry, there is little atmosphere or precipitation to speak of, and nothing grows there. By our standards, that makes it an incredibly inhospitable place. And yet, in many other respects, it is quite similar to our world.
For instance, Mars’ internal structure is differentiated between a metallic core and a silicate mantle and crust. It also has plenty of water, though the majority of it is concentrated in the polar regions as water ice (and as a permanent layer of permafrost under much of the surface). But perhaps most striking of all, a day on Mars is almost the same as a day here on Earth.
In fact, a day on Mars is roughly 40 minutes longer than a day is here on Earth. Compared to other bodies in our Solar System where a day is either incredibly short (Jupiter’s rotates once on its axis every 9 hours, 55 minutes and 29.69 seconds) or incredibly long (a day on Venus lasts for 116 days and 18 hours), this similarity is quite astounding.
However, there are some things that need to be addressed before we go about declaring just how long a day is on another planet. In fact, there are two ways to determine the length of a day on a celestial body, the sidereal day and the solar day; both of which are used by astronomers for determining the passage on time.
Sidereal vs. Solar:
By definition, a sidereal day on Mars is the length of time that it takes the planet to rotate once on its axis so that stars appear in the same place in the night sky. On Earth, this takes exactly 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.1 seconds. In comparison, on Mars, a sidereal day lasts 24 hours, 37 minutes, and 22 seconds.
The solar day, by contrast, is the time it takes for the Earth to rotate on its axis so that the Sun appears in the same position in the sky. This position changes slightly each day, but on Earth, a mean solar day works out to being 24 hours long. On Mars, a solar day lasts 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35 seconds. Rounding that out, we say that a day here on Earth works out to an even 24 hours while on Mars, a day lasts 24 hours and 40 minutes.
Want to know about some other interesting similarities Mars has with Earth? Read on!
Mars also has a seasonal cycle that is similar to that of Earth’s. This is due in part to the fact that Mars also has a tilted axis, which is inclined 25.19° to its orbital plane (compared to Earth’s axial tilt of approx. 23.44°). It’s also due to Mars orbital eccentricity, which mean that it ranges in distance from 206.7 million to249.2 million kilometers from the Sun.
This change in distance causes significant variations in temperature. While the planet’s average temperature is -46 °C (51 °F), this ranges from a low of -143 °C (-225.4 °F) during the winter at the poles to a high of 35 °C (95 °F) during summer and midday at the equator. This high in temperatures is what allows for liquid water to still flow, albeit intermittently, on the surface of Mars.
It also snows on Mars. In 2008, NASA’s Phoenix Landerfound water ice in the polar regions of the planet. This was an expected finding, but scientists were not prepared to observe snow falling from clouds. The snow, combined with soil chemistry experiments, led scientists to believe that the landing site had a wetter and warmer climate in the past.
And then in 2012, data obtained by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter revealed that carbon-dioxide snowfalls occur in the southern polar region of Mars. For decades, scientists have known that carbon-dioxide ice is a permanent part of Mars’ seasonal cycle and exists in the southern polar caps. But this was the first time that such a phenomena was detected, and it remains the only known example of carbon-dioxide snow falling anywhere in our solar system.
Like Earth, Mars can have some pretty extreme weather. In the Red Planet’s case, this takes the form of dust storms that can dominated the surface from time to time. These storms have been known to grow to be thousands of kilometers across, occasionally encircling the entire planet and covering everything in a thick haze of dust. When these storms become that large, they prevent direct observation of the Martian surface.
Case in point: when the Mariner 9 orbiter became the first spacecraft to orbit Mars in 1971, it sent pictures back to Earth of a world consumed in haze. The entire planet was covered by a dust storm so massive that only Olympus Mons, the giant Martian volcano that measures 24 km high, could be seen above the clouds. This storm lasted for a full month, and delayed Mariner 9‘s attempts to photograph the planet in detail.
And then on June 9th, 2001, the Hubble Space Telescope spotted a dust storm in the Hellas Basin on Mars. By July, the storm had died down, but then grew again to become the largest storm in 25 years. So big was the storm that amateur astronomers using small telescopes were able to see it from Earth. And the cloud raised the temperature of the frigid Martian atmosphere by a stunning 30° Celsius.
Therein lies another thing Mars has in common with Earth – global warming! Much like warming trends here on Earth, warming on Mars is caused by the presence of particulate matter in the air that absorbs energy from the Sun and radiates it outward into the atmosphere. causing average temperatures to rise.
These storms tend to occur when Mars is closest to the Sun, and are the result of temperatures rising and triggering changes in the air and soil. As the soil dries, it becomes more easily picked up by air currents, which are caused by pressure changes due to increased heat. The dust storms cause temperatures to rise even further, so you could say Mars has a “greenhouse effect” of its own!
As you have probably concluded from all the facts listed above, Mars can be a harsh and volatile planet. Just knowing the answer to ”how long is a day on Mars?” only provides a small glimpse of what is going on there. At the end of the day (no pun intended!) there is plenty happening on Mars that makes it similar enough to Earth that many people are actually contemplating living there someday. And knowing exactly what sets Mars apart, and what we can work with, will be intrinsic to making that happen!