NASA rover discovers one of the ‘most active sources’ of dust devils on Mars

While the March Insight the lander is still waiting for a dust devil to pass to clean its solar panels, it seems that Perseverance rover sees dust devils several times a day.

A new paper detailing the first 216 days of Perseverance’s mission to Jezero Crater reports how the new Mars rover appears to be located in a “dust storm lane” that runs north to south across the planet. Jezero Crater has particularly high levels of dust and wind activity.

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

Image of the region around the Jezero crater. Credit: NASA/JPL.

The research team, led by Claire Newmann of Aeolis Research — reports that an average of four dust devils pass the rover daily. There is a period at noon local time when usually more than one dust devil per hour whistles near the rover. Additionally, strong gusts of wind produced by daytime convection cells above the crater frequently lifted dust into the air over a wide area, creating a local dust cloud. One such event covered ten times more area than the largest dust devil.

“Every time we land somewhere new on Mars, it’s an opportunity to better understand the planet’s weather,” Newman said, adding there may be more dusty 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 dust storms.”

Not only has the rover detected hundreds of dust devils since landing in Jezero Crater in February 2021, but Perseverance also captured the first-ever video of gusts of wind kicking up a massive cloud of Martian dust.

The rover includes a suite of sensors called MEDA (or Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer). 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. The rover’s camera suite is also used to monitor the weather and look for passing dust devils.

This series of images from a navigation camera aboard Perseverance 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 Full image details

“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.

Since Perseverance is nuclear-powered, the rover team doesn’t have to worry about dust collecting on the solar panels and impacting the mission. But there appears to be more dust kicked up into the air at Jezero Crater, Newman said in a news release, even though “average wind speeds are lower there, and maximum wind speeds and l eddy activity are comparable to Elysium Planitia,” where InSight is located about 3,452 km (2,145 miles) away.

While wind and dust are widespread across Mars, the path of the dust storm in Jezero Crater could be due to factors such as the roughness of its surface, which may allow wind to more easily lift dust. . While the dust devils are of scientific and aesthetic interest, the sand carried by these windstorms damaged MEDA’s two wind sensors.

The team said they suspected the sand grains had 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. The Curiosity rover also had wind sensors damaged by dust and debris kicked up when it landed in Gale Crater.

Even with additional protective coatings on MEDA’s wires, damage was still occurring, underscoring the damaging nature of Martian dust.

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 sensors are seriously impacted, ironically, because we got what we wanted to measure.”

This article was originally published on Universe today by NANCY ATKINSON. Read it original article here.

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