Martian New Year on Sunday a second chance to start fresh, Earthling
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Peper agrees. “That extra increase in day length is probably small enough that the human diurnal cycle could adapt to it,” he says. Even so, future missions might favour night-people over morning-people, since astronauts on the surface would be going to bed almost 40 minutes later every single sol.
“It’s just close enough to lull you into thinking they’re the same length,” Peper says of Martian time units. “And just far enough apart to mess you up.”
And while he says he has never celebrated the Martian New Year, he notes that Curiosity recently passed its 3,000th sol on Mars. He and his team marked the occasion, despite the fact that in Earth time — 3,082 and a half days — it was not a round number. Due to the pandemic, he says, “this year was a little bit subdued, but the team usually gets together for either the earth-year celebration of when we landed, or sol milestones.”
There is one final oddity of Mars time, but it pulls us into the realm of relativity. What time is it on Mars right now?
It seems like an easy question to answer — you can picture a rover sitting on the planet right now — but it turns out that there is no “universal now” that unites Earth and Mars. Asking when now is on Mars makes as much sense as asking where “here” is in Beijing. It isn’t. Beijing has its own “here.”
“You always have to ask that question when you’re talking about events in Mars time,” says Lakdawalla. “And at landing times is when it gets especially confusing. Because the now for us is when the radio signals reach us. And so by the time the signal of Curiosity hitting the top of Mars’ atmosphere has reached Earth, everything will be over on Mars.” She waves her hands vaguely. “According to some mythical simultaneity thing.”
She adds: “That sort of works if you don’t think about it too hard. That’s not the kind of stuff I like to do. I’m a geologist; I like physical objects.”
Regardless, on the day we on Earth call Feb. 7, Mars will cross a point in its orbit known as solar longitude zero degrees, or Ls0, pronounced “ell sub ess zero.” If you want to make some noise or raise a glass of Champagne to that pale red dot in the sky, go for it. You won’t get the chance again for another 668 sols. That’ll be Boxing Day, 2022 here on Earth, and New Year’s Day, 37 on Mars.