Human exploration of Mars is likely going to be a reality very soon. But now, a curious problem has encountered scientists. It looks like the Martian day, which is forty minutes longer than Earth’s day, will cause the explorers some bad headaches.
It is a question not many of us have asked ourselves, and for those of us in a certain age group, we may not even need to ever encounter it in our lives. But exploration of Mars has been happening in earnest for a while now, and it has recently become known that the lag between the Martian day and the Earth day – which is 40 minutes – is long enough to cause some bad jet lag for Martian explorers.
Forty minutes may not sound like much at the first instance, but it quickly adds up. To be exact, the Martian day is 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35 seconds long. This does not coincide with the human body’s natural rhythms.
They found this the hard way first when the team of scientists involved with working on the very first Martian rovers like Spirit and Curiosity began to find it increasingly hard to keep working to the Martian day. While with jet lag on Earth, you adjust your clocks, sleep it off in two days, and wait until your body adjusts, with something like working to the Martian day, you have to set your clock back by 40 minutes every single day. Which means that you will wake up on each day 40 minutes later than the previous day.
What begins as a fairly small difference of forty minutes suddenly explodes with the compounding rate, and before a week is out, you’re pulling your hair and your eyes are bulging. Your head is pounding.
In a test that was conducted about the time when Martian rover Pathfinder landed, it was found that none of the test subjects could adjust to the circadian rhythm of Mars.
They’re now looking at light therapy as a possible solution. It turns out that human beings are kept awake by blue light wavelengths, which means in order for a person to adjust to a circadian rhythm, they have to subject themselves to light therapy, using the blue of the sky and the long red of a sunset to forcefully set the body’s internal clock.
In any case, it does not look like a trip to Mars is going to be as simple as a quiet night’s sleep.