Happy New Year, Mars! February 7 was the 36th Martian New Year since we officially started counting how much time we spent on the Red Planet. Time does not go there as it does on earth. To celebrate the New Year, the European Space Agency took this opportunity to share the similarities and differences between saving time on Earth and Mars. First, let us consider the solar day. On Earth, we choose our unit of measurement as 24 hours and define it as the time when the sun returns to the highest point in the sky depending on your location. This time variant can give or take up to 7.9 seconds.
Things on Mars are a bit slow but surprisingly similar to Earth. A Mars solar day or ‘single’ is 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds long. Many missions to Mars, like NASA’s Curiosity rover, count when working on the Red Planet, not Earth days. However, the year on Mars is 668 years, or about 687 Earth days, 1.8 times longer than a year on Earth. If you currently live on Mars, it is easy to figure out what your age will be if you want to work. Take your age today and divide it by 1.88. So, if you are 38 years old on Earth, you are only entering your twenties on Mars (has the number of volunteers to start the first settlement on Mars just increased?). There seems to be a system to apply here for a few more hours a day and (nominally) even younger listening.
So why there still only 36 Mar years of Mars, when Mars is clearly billions of years old? The counter started only after a lot of dust storms on Mars in 1955, a common feature of southern summer (more in a minute in tutu) was to match the spring equinox to arrange things like year and counter to our “one year” on April 11, 1955- The storm that began was known as the “Great Dust Storm of 1956”.
So far, the daily and annual deadlines on Mars are straightforward. Of course, a little longer than the earth but not individually separate, which will make it relatively easy to keep in touch with your loved one. However, Martian seasons are deeply different. On Earth, seasons are only due to planetary exposure. As our planet moves around the sun, one hemisphere becomes lighter, and six months later things reverse.
Mars has a tilt of 25 degrees, close to Earth’s 23.5 degrees, but the seasons are not straight. There is an important interplay with the size of the orbit so that certain particles are longer than others are. The orbit of Mars is not nearly as round as that of Earth, it is a bit more confusing, so the spring in the Northern Hemisphere lasts longer than the autumn in the Northern Hemisphere (more than 142 sols).
Small southern summers and springs not only curious, they have a global impact. During this period, the planet is very close to the sun so the increased illumination allows creating more turbulence in the atmosphere. This is why dust storms are a special feature of these seasons, sometimes covering the entire planet. One of the storms killed NASA’s Opportunity Rover. However, you will be satisfied knowing the dust storm that stuck Mark Watney on Martian’s Red Planet does not really look like much. The next Martian New Year will start on December 26, 2022, so start your festivities better before the year you started complaining for 36 years the world felt until 2020.