Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan

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JPL team no longer on Martian time

Posted: November 14, 2012

JPL team no longer on Martian time

When Curiosity landed on Mars, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory team cheered. Then they spent the next 90 days living on Martian time.

Mars days, called sols, are about 40 minutes longer than Earth days. The start of the sol is always changing relative to Earth time, so the team's start time for daily planning had to be moved a few hours later each week. One day the team might start working at noon, then two weeks later they start working at midnight. 

“It’s painful. The worst is when work starts around 2 AM and goes until the late morning,” Professor Nilton Renno, who has lived on sols, says.

The reason the JPL team synchronizes with sols is because the most efficient way to run the rover is by staying up to date during each sol. This allows scientists to see the rover data as quickly as possible and respond with instructions.

On Tuesday, November 6, JPL switched back to Earth time. The days are long, but the times are more reasonable, such as from 8 AM to 8 PM.

Renno describes how he lives through sols. “My own style is to go out during the day and see the sun, then sleep in the afternoon and eat well. I try not to change my lifestyle too much.”

Professor Sushil Atreya is a member of the JPL team that just made the switch back to Earth time. He shares his tips on handling the Martian schedule.

“Perfectly dark rooms for work and sleep, chocolate covered espresso beans, mugs of black coffee - first time in 25 years, food, food and more food at all weird hours, periods of fifteen-mile bike rides in very bike-unfriendly Pasadena/San Marino to fight off perpetual interplanetary jet lag, very friendly and energetic rover drivers, constantly learning cleanup allballs and other rover lingo, baby carrots, just plain adrenaline rush, and accepting the fact there are no weekends on Mars (!), were some of the things that helped me survive the first 90 sols of Curiosity's operation on Mars time,” Atreya says.

Read more about the switch back to Earth time here.

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