Predicting the Weather on Mars

Over the years, I have learned not to place too much trust in weather forecasters. On a number of occasions, the forecasters have either underestimated or overestimated the severity or timing of predicted storms, or failed to predict weather events altogether. So I read with interest a story discussing NASA awarding a grant to Texas A&M University professor Istvan Szunyogh to analyze and forecast weather on the planet Mars.

Mars has always been characterized as the planet most closely resembling Earth in composition. There’s ice at the Martian polar regions, and dust storms encircle the planet periodically. According to the story, the ability to predict the occurrence and location of these dust storms and monitor wind and temperature conditions will become increasingly important as more missions to Mars – unmanned robotic probes and eventually manned spacecraft – are planned.

"All weather forecasts, including those on TV, are based on model forecasts of the different physical parameters of the Earth’s atmosphere such as temperature, wind, and pressure," Szunyogh was quoted as saying. "The main goal of the project is to explore the possibility of obtaining accurate quantitative estimates of these parameters in the Martian atmosphere."

Given the high cost and risks of space exploration, I hope Martian weather forecasting turns out to be a more exact science than weather forecasting here on Earth.

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