NASA's Perseverance studies the wild winds of the Jezero crater

NASA’s Perseverance studies the wild winds of the Jezero crater

NASA's Perseverance studies the wild winds of the Jezero crater

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

During the first hundred days of the Jezero Crater, NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover saw some of the most intense dust activity ever seen by a mission sent to the surface of the red planet. Not only did the rover detect hundreds of dust-bearing whirlwinds known as dust devils, Perseverance recorded the first ever-recorded video of gusts lifting a massive dust cloud from Mars.

A newspaper recently published in The progress of science depicts the amount of weather phenomena observed during the first 216 days of March, or sun. The new findings enable researchers to better understand dust processes on Mars and contribute to a body of knowledge that can one day help them predict the dust storms that Mars is known for – and which pose a threat to future robot and human explorers.

“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 focused on planetary atmospheres. She added that it could be more exciting weather on the way: “We had a regional dust storm on top of us in January, but we are still in the middle of the dust season, so we will most likely see more dust storms. “

Endurance 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 led by Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología in collaboration with the Finnish Meteorological Institute and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. . MEDA includes wind sensors, light sensors that can detect whirlwinds as they scatter sunlight around the rover and a camera facing the sky to take pictures of dust and clouds.

“The Jezero Crater may be located in one of the most active dust sources on the planet,” said Manuel de la Torre Juarez, MEDA’s Deputy Chief Investigator at JPL. “Everything new we learn about dust will be helpful for future missions.”

Frequent whirlwinds

The study authors found that at least four whirlwinds pass Perseverance on a typical March day and that more than one per hour passes by during an hour-long peak period just after noon.

Rover’s cameras also documented three occasions there wind gusts lifted large clouds of dust, something that researchers call “gust-lifting events”. The largest of these created a massive cloud that covered 1.5 square miles (4 square kilometers). The newspaper estimated that these wind gusts together can lift as much or more dust as the whirlwinds that far exceed them.

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

“We think these gusts are rare but may be responsible for a large portion of background dust that floats constantly in Mars’ atmosphere,” Newman said.

Why is Jezero different?

While wind and dust are widespread throughout Mars, scientists seem to find distinguishing Jezero. This greater activity may be related to the fact that the crater is close to what Newman describes as a “dust storm track” that runs from north to south across the planet and often lifts dust during the dust storm season.

Newman added that the greater activity in the Jezero may be due to factors such as the roughness of the surface, which may make it easier for the wind to lift dust. That may explain why NASA’s InSight lander – in the Elysium Planitia, about 2,145 miles (3,452 kilometers) from the Jezero crater – is still waiting for a whirlwind to clear its dust-laden solar panels, while Perseverance has already measured removal. of dust from the surface nearby. of several transient whirlwinds.

“Sustainability is nuclear-powered, but if we had solar panels instead, we probably would not have to worry about dams building,” Newman said. “There’s generally just more dust lift in the Jezero Crater, although average wind speeds are lower there and peak wind speeds and whirlwind activity are comparable to Elysium Planitia.”

In fact, Jezeros dust the lift has been more intense than the team would have liked: Sand carried in whirlwinds damaged MEDA’s two wind sensors. The team suspects that sand grains damaged the thin wires on the wind sensors, which protrude from Perseverance’s mast. These sensors are particularly vulnerable because they must remain exposed to the wind in order to measure it correctly. Sand grains that were blown in the wind, and probably carried in whirlwinds, also damaged one of the Curiosity rover’s wind sensors (Curiosity’s other wind sensor was damaged by debris thrown during its landing in Gale Crater).

With Curiosity’s injury in mind, the Perseverance team provided an extra protective coating on MEDA’s lines. Still, Jezer’s weather prevailed. De la Torre Juarez said the team is testing software changes that should allow the wind sensors to continue working.

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

Dust devils and rising winds during the day explain Mars’ constant haze

More information:
Claire E. Newman et al, The Dynamic Atmospheric and Aeolian Environment of the Jezero Crater, Mars, The progress of science (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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