What constitutes a "Sol" cycle in the film "The Martian"

  • In the film (and book) The Martian, NASA has termed a cycle of time as a "Sol", and it is what Watney and the crew use to refer to what seems like it might be a Martian day.

    1. Is a Sol equal to one Martian day?
    2. If so, is it explained why do they call it a Sol instead of a Martian Day, or maybe Martian Solar Cycle? (Could it be a cool-sounding abbreviation?)

    VTC as off topic, as this is straight up a question of science fact: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timekeeping_on_Mars#Sols

    Copy the question and the answer to the appropriate stack, please. It applies to both the fictional world and the real world, but it still completely applies to the fictional world of The Martian.

    the question is about a term used in a fictional work. it's on-topic on both stacks as OP was apparently not aware that it was a real-life term.

    @phantom42 No more no-topic than questions about how thrust vector calculations can be used to maneuver space vehicles... (off topic here, on topic on physics SE).

  • phantom42

    phantom42 Correct answer

    5 years ago

    While the book uses the term, it does not explain the definition or exact length.

    Real-life NASA, however, does.

    One sol = one solar day.

    Mars Solar Days and 24-hr Clock Convention

    Following the long-standing practice originally adopted in 1976 by the Viking Lander missions, the daily variation of Mars solar time is reckoned in terms of a "24-hour" clock, representing a 24-part division of the planet's solar day, along with the traditional sexagesimal subdivisions of 60 minutes and 60 seconds. A Mars solar day has a mean period of 24 hours 39 minutes 35.244 seconds, and is customarily referred to as a "sol" in order to distinguish this from the roughly 3% shorter solar day on Earth. The Mars sidereal day, as measured with respect to the fixed stars, is 24h 37m 22.663s, as compared with 23h 56m 04.0905s for Earth.

    So a Sol is specifically for Mars and not for any other planet? It is not a general term for a solar day on a random planet?

    @VincentAdvocaat while the definition would theoretically make sense in use with other planets/bodies, I've been unable to find any mention of it used for anything other than Mars. It seems to be used specifically for Mars.

    @VincentAdvocaat You have it, at least in theory. It is the term for a solar day for a planet, and the context should make which planet clear. As a practical matter, it would only apply to Mars. Mercury is tidally-locked to the Sun, and therefore has no solar day. Venus rotates so slowly that it has just less than two sols per Venusian year. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are gas giants, and don't have definitely measurable solar days. Pluto isn't a planet anymore, but it does have a solar day. Would that be shortened to "sol" if/when we start operating there? We'll have to see.

    @MontyHarder Mercury is not tidally-locked, that's known since 1965. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury_%28planet%29

    @edc65 I stand corrected. Mercury goes in the same category as Venus, only worse: With a 3:2 resonance, a solar day is two (Mercury) years, so it's hardly a subsidiary unit in the way days and sols are to Earth's and Mars' respective years.

    @MontyHarder great explanation, thank you.

    About "sol" being used for other planets: I think it just hasn't come up yet, so "nobody knows if we will use it elsewhere". As a practical matter, Mars is the only body (so far) where we have landed anything, where we have had continuous extended operations on the surface, and where the day/night cycle is highly relevant for operational reasons (illumination, temperature, power, etc.), which leads to the need for a short, unambiguous name for the local solar cycle. I personally favor leaving it a Mars term, but I'm guessing it will be adapted eventually to other bodies, as needed.

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