Sol (day on Mars)

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On Mars, time 1 followed by time 2 is the length of a sidereal day. Time 1 followed by time 3 is the length of a solar day or a sol.

Sol (borrowed from the Latin word for sun) is a Mars solar day; that is, a Mars-day. A sol is the apparent interval between two successive returns of the Sun to the same meridian (sundial time) as seen by an observer on Mars. It is one of several units for timekeeping on Mars. The sol was originally adopted in 1976 during the Viking Lander missions and is a measure of time mainly used by NASA when, for example, scheduling the use of the Mars rover.[1][2]


The average duration of the day-night cycle on Mars — i.e., a Martian day — is 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35.244 seconds.[2]

The sidereal rotational period of Mars—its rotation compared to the fixed stars—is only 24 hours, 37 minutes and 22.66 seconds. The solar day lasts slightly longer because of its orbit around the sun which requires it to turn slightly further on its axis.

Usage in Mars lander timekeeping[edit]

When a spacecraft lander begins operations on Mars, the passing Martian days (sols) have been tracked using a simple numerical count. The two Viking missions, Mars Phoenix, Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity, and InSight counted the sol on which each lander touched down as "Sol 0". Mars Pathfinder and the two Mars Exploration Rovers instead defined touchdown as "Sol 1".[3] Generally speaking, the choice between counting from Sol 0 or Sol 1 has been made made so that Sol 1 would be the first sol with "meaningful" or "useful" lander operations. Thus, landers that touched down late in the Martian day have begun their sol count at 0, while those that touch down early in the day began their count at 1.[citation needed]

Although lander missions have twice occurred in pairs, no effort was made to synchronize the sol counts of the two landers within each pair. Thus, for example, although Spirit and Opportunity were sent to operate simultaneously on Mars, each counted its landing date as "Sol 1", putting their calendars approximately 21 sols out of sync.

Mars Sol Date[edit]

On Earth, astronomers often use Julian Dates—a simple sequential count of days—for timekeeping purposes. An analogous system for Mars has been proposed "[f]or historical utility with respect to the Earth-based atmospheric, visual mapping, and polar-cap observations of Mars…, a sequential count of sol-numbers". This Mars Sol Date (MSD) starts "prior to the 1877 perihelic opposition."[4] Thus, the MSD is a running count of sols since December 29, 1873 (coincidentally the birth date of astronomer Carl Otto Lampland). Numerically, the Mars Sol Date is defined as MSD = (Julian Date using International Atomic Time - 2451549.5 + k)/1.02749125 + 44796.0, where k is a small correction of approximately 0.00014 d (or 12 s) due to uncertainty in the exact geographical position of the prime meridian at Airy-0 crater.


The word "yestersol" was coined by the NASA Mars operations team early during the MER mission to refer to the previous sol (the Mars version of "yesterday"), and came into fairly wide use within that organization during the Mars Exploration Rover Mission of 2003.[5] It was eventually picked up and used by the press.[citation needed] Other neologisms include "tosol" (for "today" on Mars), as well as one of three Mars versions of "tomorrow": "nextersol", "morrowsol", or "solmorrow".[6] NASA planners coined the term "soliday" at least as far back as 2012 to refer to days off due to time phasing or the synching of planetary schedules.[7]


Considering a possible colonization of Mars, one question that arose was "how does one convert a Sol to standard Earth time?" In the science fiction series Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, the Mars settlers use traditional Earth watches that stop ticking at midnight for 39 minutes and 40 seconds before resuming their timekeeping. This creates something like a "witching hour" which compensates for the time difference between a Sol and an Earth day. This follows the method previously given by Philip K. Dick in his novel Martian Time-Slip.

An alternative idea was suggested in 1988 by David Powell (the Davidian Mars calendar).[citation needed] In this case the clocks simply run slower than the ones on Earth so that their hour hands complete two cycles per one Sol. For example, 1 Mars-second is 1.027 Earth-seconds, 1 Mars-minute is 61.62 Earth-seconds, and 1 Mars-hour is 61 minutes and 36.968 Earth-seconds. NASA once commissioned custom watches using this method.[8]

An alternative method is to maintain the SI second, but divide it into different forms. Rounded to the nearest whole second, there are 88775 SI seconds in a sol; 88775 factorizes into 5×5×53×67. 53 and 67, both prime numbers, are reasonably close to 60, the standard sexagesimal division of seconds per minute and minutes per hour, while 5×5=25, a number close to the 24 hours in a day on Earth. Thus, a system with 25-hour sols could use a 67-minute/53-second system, or a 53-minute/67-second system. Either system would require frequent leap seconds (one approximately every four sols) to maintain synchronization with Mars' rotation.


  1. ^ Snyder, Conway W. (1979). "The extended mission of Viking". Journal of Geophysical Research. 84 (B14): 7917–7933. doi:10.1029/JB084iB14p07917.
  2. ^ a b Allison, Michael; Schmunk, Robert (June 30, 2015). "Technical Notes on Mars Solar Time as Adopted by the Mars24 Sunclock". Goddard Institute for Space Studies. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Retrieved June 13, 2018.
  3. ^ "Phoenix Mars Mission - Mission - Mission Phases - On Mars". 29 February 2008. Retrieved 13 July 2012.
  4. ^ Allison, Michael; McEwen, Megan (2000). "A post-Pathfinder evaluation of areocentric solar coordinates with improved timing recipes for Mars seasonal/diurnal climate studies". Planetary and Space Science. 48 (2–3): 215–235. Bibcode:2000P&SS...48..215A. doi:10.1016/S0032-0633(99)00092-6.
  5. ^ Rusch, Elizabeth (2012). The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity. ISBN 978-0547822808.
  6. ^ Martínez-Frías, Jesús (28 September 2002). "Marte: 'yestersol', 'tosol' y 'solmorrow'" [Mars: 'yestersol', 'tosol', and 'solmorrow']. El Mundo (in Spanish). Madrid, Spain: Unidad Editorial S.A. Retrieved 23 April 2014.
  7. ^ "MSL abbreviations and acronyms". 31 October 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2015.
  8. ^ "Watchmaker With Time to Lose". JPL Mars Exploration Rovers. 2014. Retrieved 22 January 2015.