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1. Atmospheric Measurements

2005: IVA-1B
2010: 1A
Priority: High

Investigation:  Determine the aspects of the atmospheric state that affect aerocapture, EDL and launch from the surface of Mars.  This includes the variability on diurnal, seasonal and inter-annual scales from ground to >80 km in both ambient and various dust storm conditions.  The observations are to directly support engineering design and also to assist in numerical model validation, especially the confidence level of the tail of dispersions (>99%).

Three views of Mars
Three views of Mars from Mars Climate Sounder. Left: visible-and-near-infrared image, bright where surface ice and atmospheric haze reflect sunlight back. Middle: shows heat emitted from both the day and night side of the planet. Right: indicates temperature of the atmosphere at a constant altitude of 25 km (15 mi). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The atmosphere on Mars is very different from that on Earth (mainly, it’s thinner and has a different chemical composition).   This greatly affects landing on Mars, since a thinner atmosphere means less drag would be generated to use to slow a spacecraft.  Global weather is also important to understand to avoid landing during a dust storm and to predict storms and other critical evens while on the surface. 

Click on the expanding links below to view the 2005 and 2010 versions of this investigation.

2005 Version of Investigation (old version)

2010 Version of Investigation (current version)

While there have been many measurements and observations collected from the rovers and other instrumentation, nothing has comprehensively fulfilled the objective requirements.  Orbital-based measurements have not been collected over a long enough period of time to provide adequate local time coverage.  Surface measurements come from only four specific locations (lacking global profile) and are, again, too short.  The following missions provided most of the known information: Mars Express (data from MaRS and SPICAM), Mars Exploration Rovers, Phoenix, Mars Global Surveyor (data from TES), and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (data from MCS).  

The updates and revisions in this investigation stem largely from engineering studies of aerocapture.  Since landing on Mars is such a challenge, it would be beneficial to have atmospheric measurements tailored to the needs of engineers and scientists working on that technology. In addition, all measurements related to wind were removed under the premise that they were not as useful as previously thought. Future work for this investigation would include obtaining long-term observations and more data from the middle-atmosphere.

Below is a list of journal articles and other papers that present the atmospheric-related findings from various aforementioned missions listed.  



  • Angelats i Coll, M., F. Forget, M. A. López-Valverde, P. L. Read, and S. R. Lewis (2004).  “Upper atmosphere of Mars up to 120km: Mars Global Surveyor accelerometer data analysis with the LMD general circulation model.”  Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 109, E01011, doi: 10.1029/2003JE002163.
  • Chaufray, J. Y., R. Modolo, F. Leblanc, G. Chanteur, R. E. Johnson, and J. G. Luhmann (2007).  “Mars solar wind interaction: Formation of the Martian corona and atmospheric loss to space”.  Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 112, E09009, doi: 10.1029/2007JE002915.


  • Coradini, A. et al (2009).  “Martian atmosphere as observed by VIRTIS-M on Rosetta spacecraft”.  Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 115, E04004, doi: 10.1029/2009JE003345.
  • Hinson, D. P., M. Pätzold, S. Tellman, B. Häusler, and G. L. Tyler (2008).  “The depth of the convective boundary layer on Mars.” Icarus, v. 198, p. 57-66.


  • Kleinböhl, Armin, John T. Schofield, David M. Kass, Wedad A. Abdou, Charles R. Backus, Bhaswar Sen, James H. Shirley, W. Gregory Lawson, Mark I. Richardson, Fredric W. Taylor, Nicholas A. Teanby, and Daniel J. McCleese (2009). “Mars Climate Sounder limb profile retrieval of atmospheric temperature, pressure, and dust and water ice opacity.” Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 114, E10006, doi: 10.1029/2009JE003358.
  • McCleese, D. J., J. T. Schofield, F. W. Taylor, W. A. Abdou, O. Aharonson, D. Banfield, S. B. Calcutt, N. G. Heavens, P. G. J. Irwin, D. M. Kass, A. Kleinböhl, W. G. Lawson, C. B. Leovy, S. R. Lewis, D. A. Paige, P. L. Read, M. I. Richardson, N. Teanby and R. W. Zurek (2008).  “Intense polar temperature inversion in the middle atmosphere on Mars.” Nature Geoscience, v. 1, iss. 11, doi: 10.1038/ngeo332.


  • McDunn, T. L., S. W. Bougher, J. Murphy, M. D. Smith, F. Forget, J.-L. Bertaux, and F. Montmessin (2010). “Simulating the density and thermal structure of the middle atmosphere (~80-130km) of Mars using the MGCM-MTGCM: A comparison with MEX/SPICAM observations.”  Icarus, v. 206, p. 5-17.
  • Mischna, M. A., et al (2008). “An Intercomparison of PFS and MCS Temperature Profiles in Support of Mars Phoenix EDL.” Presented at the Third International Workshop on The Mars Atmosphere: Modeling and Observations. Contribution No. 1447, p. 9091


  • Moffat-Griffin, T., A. D. Aylward, and W. Nicholson (2007).  “Thermal structure and dynamics of the Martian upper atmosphere at solar minimum from global circulation model simulations.” Annales Geophysicae, v. 25, p. 2147-2158.
  • Smith, Michael D., Michael J. Wolff, Mark T. Lemmon, Nicole Spanovich, Don Banfield, Charles J. Budney, R. Todd Clancy, Amitabha Ghosh, Geoffrey A. Landis, Peter Smith, Barbara Whitney, Philip R. Christensen, and Steven W. Squyres (2004). “First Atmospheric Science Results from the Mars Exploration Rovers Mini-TES.” Science, v. 306, p. 1750-1753.


  • Smith, Michael D., Michael J. Wolff, Nicole Spanovich, Amitabha, Don Banfield, Philip R. Christensen, Geoffrey A. Landis, and Steven W. Squyres (2006). “One Martian year of atmospheric observations using MER Mini-TES.” Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 111, E12S13, doi: 10.1029/2006JE002770.
  • Sorbjan, Zbigniew, Michael Wolff, and Michael D. Smith (2009).  “Thermal structure of the atmospheric boundary layer on Mars based on Mini-TES observations.”  Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, v. 135, p. 1776-1787.


  • Spanovich, N., M. D. Smith, P. H. Smith, M. J. Wolff, P. R. Christensen, and S. W. Squyres (2006).  “Surface and near-surface atmospheric temperatures for the Mars Exploration Rover landing sites.” Icarus, v. 180, p. 314-320.
  • Tamppari, Leslie, Deborah Bass, Bruce Cantor, Ingrid Daubar, Cameron Dickinson, David Fisher, Ken Fujii, Haraldur P. Gunnlauggson, Troy L. Hudson, David Kass, Armin Kleinböhl, Leonce Komguem, Mark T. Lemmon, Mike Mellon, John Moores, Alexey Pankine, Jagruti Pathak, Mindi Searls, Frank Seelos, Michael D. Smith, Sue Smrekar, Peter Taylor, Christina Holstein‐Rathlou, Wensong Weng, Jim Whiteway, and Mike Wolff (2009). “Phoenix and MRO coordinated atmospheric measurements.” Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 115, E00E17, doi: 10.1029/2009JE003415.


  • Withers, Paul and Michael D. Smith (2006).  “Atmospheric entry profiles from the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.” Icarus, v. 185, p. 133-142.
  • Withers, Paul (2006).  “Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey Accelerometer observations of the Martian upper atmosphere during aerobraking.” Geophysical Research Letters, v. 33, L02201, doi: 10.1029/2005GL024447.


  • Wolkenberg, P., D. Grassi, V. Formisano, G. Rinaldi, M. D’Amore, and M. Smith (2008).  “Simultaneous observations of the Martian atmosphere by Planetary Fourier Spectrometer on Mars Express and Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer on Mars Exploration Rover.” Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 114, E04012, doi: 10.1029/2008JE003216.

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