NASA Perseverance studies wild winds from Jezero Crater

This series of images from a navigation camera aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover shows a gust of wind sweeping dust across the Martian plain beyond the rover’s tracks on June 18, 2021 (the 117th sol, or Martian day , of the mission). The dust cloud in this GIF was estimated to be 1.5 square miles (4 square kilometers); it was the first wind-blown Martian dust cloud of this magnitude ever captured in images. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

During its first two hundred days in Jezero Crater, NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover observed some of the most intense dust activity ever seen by a mission sent to the Red Planet’s surface. Not only did the rover detect hundreds of dust devils called dust devils, but Perseverance captured the first-ever video of gusts of wind kicking up a massive cloud of Martian dust.

A recently published article in Scientists progress chronicles the wealth of meteorological phenomena observed during the first 216 Martian days, or sols. The new findings give scientists a better understanding of dust processes on Mars and contribute to a body of knowledge that could one day help them predict the dust storms that Mars is famous for and pose a threat to future explorers. robots and humans.

“Every time we land in a new place on Mars, it’s an opportunity to better understand the planet’s weather,” said the paper’s lead author, Claire Newman of Aeolis Research, a research firm specialized in planetary atmospheres. She added that there could be more exciting weather on the way: “We had a regional dust storm right above us in January, but we’re still in the middle of dust season, so we’re very likely to see more Sandstorm.”

Perseverance made these observations primarily with the rover’s cameras and a suite of sensors belonging to the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA), a scientific instrument run by Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología in collaboration with the Finnish Meteorological Institute and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA in Southern California. MEDA includes wind sensors, light sensors that can detect whirlwinds as they scatter sunlight around the rover, and a sky-facing camera to capture images of dust and clouds.

“Jezero Crater may be one of the most active sources of dust on the planet,” said Manuel de la Torre Juarez, MEDA deputy principal investigator at JPL. “Anything new we learn about dust will be useful for future missions.”

Frequent swirls

The study authors found that at least four vortices pass Perseverance on a typical Martian day, and more than one pass per hour during a one-hour peak just after noon.

The rover’s cameras also documented three occasions when wind gusts lifted large clouds of dust, what scientists call “gust lift events”. The largest of them created a massive cloud covering 1.5 square miles (4 square kilometers). The paper estimates that these gusts of wind can collectively kick up as much or more dust than the vortices that far outnumber them.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover used its navigation camera to capture these swirling dust devils in Jezero Crater on July 20, 2021, the 148th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

“We think these burst uplifts are infrequent but could be responsible for much of the background dust that hovers in the Martian atmosphere all the time,” Newman said.

Why is Jezero different?

While wind and dust are rife all over Mars, what researchers find seems to set Jezero apart. This greater activity may be related to the fact that the crater is near what Newman describes as a “dust storm track” that runs north to south across the planet, often kicking up dust during the dust storm season.

Newman added that the greater activity at Jezero could be due to factors such as the roughness of its surface, which can allow the wind to raise dust more easily. This could explain why NASA’s InSight lander – at Elysium Planitia, about 2,145 miles (3,452 kilometers) from Jezero Crater – is still waiting for a whirlwind to clear its dust-laden solar panels, while Perseverance has already measured the dusting of the nearby surface by several passing eddies.

“Perseverance is powered by nuclear, but if we had solar panels instead, we probably wouldn’t have to worry about dust building up,” Newman said. “There is generally somewhat more dust lifting in Jezero Crater, although average wind speeds are lower there and maximum wind speeds and vortex activity are comparable to those of Elysium Planitia. “

In fact Jezero dust the uplift was more intense than the team would have liked: the sand transported by vortices damaged MEDA’s two wind sensors. The team suspects the grains of sand damaged the fine wiring of the wind sensors, which protrude from Perseverance’s mast. These sensors are particularly vulnerable because they must remain exposed to the wind to measure it correctly. Wind-blown sand grains, likely carried in whirlwinds, also damaged one of the Curiosity rover’s wind sensors (Curiosity’s other wind sensor was damaged by debris kicked up when it landed in Gale crater).

With Curiosity’s damage in mind, the Perseverance team provided an extra protective coating for MEDA’s wires. Yet Jezero’s time still got the better of them. De la Torre Juarez said the team is testing software changes that should allow the wind sensors to continue working.

“We collected a lot of interesting scientific data,” said de la Torre Juarez. “The wind the sensors are seriously impacted, ironically, because we got what we wanted to measure.”

Dust devils and daytime updrafts explain Mars’ constant haze

More information:
Claire E. Newman et al, The Dynamic Atmospheric and Aeolian Environment of Jezero Crater, Mars, Scientists progress (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abn3783

Quote: NASA’s Perseverance studies the wild winds of Jezero Crater (2022, June 4) retrieved June 4, 2022 from

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