And Now, the Weather (On Mars)

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Mars rover engineers have begun publishing regular reports on the red planet's frigid climate, dust devils, and wild winds.

The Spanish scientists behind the rover Curiosity's onboard weather station—the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station, or REMS—say they want to keep ordinary folks apprised of what they're learning.

REMS instruments measure surrounding air temperature, ground temperature, wind speed, air pressure, dust levels, and circulation, allowing scientists to develop a pretty good picture of what's going on up there.

Illustration of the Curiosity rover on the Martian surface.

Martian weathermen Jorge Pla-García, Antonio Molina, and Javier Gómez Elvira of the Spanish National Center of Astrobiology analyze the enormous influx of data and translate it into reports that feel both alien and very familiar to readers of the morning newspaper.

Spring, for example, is dust season. "Dust is highly influential in the Martian atmosphere, causing most of its variability," the team writes in their July 2017 report. "The suspended dust particles have a double effect, retaining the infrared radiation coming from the ground but reflexing the incident visible radiation, providing an anti-greenhouse effect in this case. Because of that, nighttime temperature rises, while the daytime temperature decreases."

Weather superfans (we know you're out there) can download the REMS app for regular updates on Martian cloud cover, radiation index, and sunrise and sunset times. The reports offer more in-depth analysis of how these conditions came about and what they can tell us about our dry, chilly cosmic neighbor.

While it may not involve standing in the path of a hurricane, interplanetary weather watching can still be hard on its practitioners.

"We used to be on watch on Martian time," Pla-García told Atlas Obscura. "And a Martian day is 24 hours and 39 minutes long, so our work schedule was different every day. That included weekends, New Year's Eve, Thanksgiving, you name it."

The team has since transitioned to Earthling time. But that doesn't mean they're loafing on the job.

"We do it because it's the public's right," Pla-García says. "They fund us with their taxes, so they deserve to know what their money is being spent on!"

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

Britain Is in the Midst of a Rare ‘Wind Drought’

iStock
iStock

Generating renewable energy in Britain is a little less than a breeze these days: A “wind drought” is halting the country’s wind turbines.

This month’s wind energy output is down 40 percent from the same time last year, New Scientist reports. On average, about 15 percent of Britain’s electricity comes from wind power. Data starting from July 1 of this year put the monthly average closer to 6.9 percent. Last month, turbines were producing less than 2 percent of Britain’s electricity—the lowest output in two years.

That’s with even more wind turbines being installed over the course of the past year, New Scientist says. The data aren’t entirely surprising, though. The jet stream tends to make the UK’s weather drier and calmer during the summer and wetter and stormier during the winter. But the high pressure the jet stream has brought with it this year has been unusually prolonged, scientists say.

“It’s like a lid, it keeps everything still,” UK Met Office spokesperson Grahame Madge told New Scientist. “From the forecast looking out over the next couple of weeks, there doesn’t seem to be any significant change on the way.”

The wind drought shouldn’t cause too many problems in the short term. Electricity demand is low during the summer (very few British homes have air conditioning), and the country’s been able to compensate for the lack of wind by burning more natural gas. If the wind drought continues to persist, though, UK residents may begin to see an increase in utility fees. Natural gas prices have already risen with the increased demand.

“As we continue to transition to a low-carbon energy system, managing the intermittency of renewable power an important role in balancing supply and demand,” a National Grid spokesperson told New Scientist. “However, we have planned for these changes and [are] ready to play our part.”

The wind drought comes about eight years after British politicians vowed to reduce the UK's dependence on fossil fuels. Last year was the first year that electricity generated from low-carbon energy sources like solar power, wind power, and nuclear power outpaced high-carbon energy sources like coal and natural gas. This summer’s wind drought may make it difficult to improve on last year’s numbers.

[h/t New Scientist]

Why Does the Sky Look Green Before a Tornado?

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iStock

A common bit of folklore from tornado-prone parts of the U.S. says that when the skies start taking on an emerald hue, it's time to run inside. But why do tornadoes tend to spawn green skies in the first place? As SciShow's Michael Aranda explains, the answer has to do with the way water droplets reflect the colors of the light spectrum.

During the day, the sky is usually blue because the shorter, bluer end of the light spectrum bounces off air molecules better than than redder, longer-wavelength light. Conditions change during the sunset (and sunrise), when sunlight has to travel through more air, and when storms are forming, which means there are more water droplets around.

Tornadoes forming later in the day, around sunset, do a great job of reflecting the green part of the light spectrum that's usually hidden in a sunset because of the water droplets in the clouds, which bounce green light into our eyes. But that doesn't necessarily mean a twister is coming—it could just mean a lot of rain is in the forecast. Either way, heading inside is probably a good idea.

For the full details on how water and light conspire to turn the sky green before a storm, check out the SciShow video below.

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