When I made a post discussing the weather station on NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander titled “First Weather Station on the Surface of Mars“, I expressed some concern that there might be something wrong with the meteorological package due to the first photo of the MET mast showing something dangling:
And I jokingly wrote: “Given that this mission was put together on a low budget, using parts previously designed for other spacecraft, it makes me wonder if the weather station we see above isn’t simply this low tech device“.
After further research, I’m forced to conclude that in fact, NASA did send a “weather rock” to Mars as part of the meteorological package!
Yes I know, you still don’t believe me, so here are the technical details. The instrument is called the “Telltale Project” and it was developed by the Mars Simulation Laboratory at the University of Aarhus in Demark.
In their project page about the instrument they write:
The Telltale is a passive wind indicator for the 2007 NASA Phoenix lander developed and constructed at the Mars Simulation Laboratory at the Aarhus University.
The Telltale consists of a gallows that is mounted on the top of the Meteorological Mast of the Lander. The active element of the instrument is an extremely lightweight Kapton tube hanging in Kevlar fibres. Images taken of the instrument will show the deflection of the Telltale due to the wind. A mirror is mounted below the active part to enable better direction information. Full resolution JPG (24 kB)
Click for a larger image.
Part of the Phoenix lander showing the Telltale on top of the Meteorological Mast ©NASA/JPL
So there you have it, what originally looked like a possible malfunction in the first photo of the first weather station on Mars turned out to be an accurate representation of the instrument, an instrument not unlike that of the “weather rock” found as a novelty item all over the world. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
In other news, I’m told that inside the MET package box, NASA has included several of these, monitored by a tiny camera, to assist in weather forecasting of seasons on Mars. 😉
UPDATE: The first day’s weather report from Phoenix Lander on Mars is now available, see below: