Scientists discover how dust rises from the surface of Mars

An international team in which the Spanish university UPV/EHU participates advanced in the knowledge of the Martian atmosphere, discovering how dust is raised on its surface, an investigation reflected in the article that is the cover of the latest issue of “Science Advances”.

In February 2021, NASA’s Mars 2020 mission arrived on Mars and the Perseverance autonomous vehicle, a mobile laboratory, began operating on the surface of the Jezero crater.

One of its instruments is the MEDA weather station, developed at the Center for Astrobiology-INTA in Madrid with the collaboration of the Planetary Sciences Group of the University of the Basque Country (northern Spain).

The analysis of the data that MEDA is providing is allowing us to delve into one of the aspects of the atmosphere of the red planet, the dust that rises from the surface, and was published in an article whose signatories include professors from the UPV/ EHU Ricardo Hueso, Agustín Sánchez Lavega and Teresa del Río-Gaztelurrutia and doctoral student Asier Munguira.

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“We can say that we are now beginning to understand the conditions necessary to raise dust from the surface of Mars, and this is a key element, because the red planet’s dust cycle will help us better understand the global meteorology of Mars,” explains Ricardo. Bone, second author of the article.

As the Martian atmosphere is much thinner than Earth’s (about 150 times less dense), suspended dust determines many of its thermal properties and how it heats up and cools down.

The “Sciences Advances” article studies the phenomena that raise dust on the surface of Mars, including dust devils and gusty winds capable of producing large dust devils.

Thanks to the data collected on the wind, dust, temperature and other atmospheric variables, the research concludes that the Jezero crater, chosen as the study site for the Mars 2020 mission because, although today it is a desert, billions of years ago it was flooded, it is one of the most active and favorable places to raise large amounts of dust from its surface.

As explained in the article, the daytime winds are ascending and, in general, intense, while at night the detected winds are descending and weaker. “It is the interaction of these wind currents with the surface that produces these massive dust lifting phenomena,” Hueso said.

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Dust from the Martian atmosphere, when deposited on the surface, can cover solar panels and make it impossible for some surface space missions to function. However, this is not a concern for the Perseverance rover, which uses nuclear power for its operations.

Hueso adds that knowing the atmosphere of Mars today is essential to understand its past and also “to prepare the human exploration of Mars” that they hope can take place “in the coming decades.”

On the other hand, “Nature” publishes this week “In situ recording of Mars soundscape”, which includes the first recordings of sound in the atmosphere of Mars. The IBeA group of the UPV/EHU, directed by Professor Juan Manuel Madariaga, participated in the article, as well as one of the signatories of the previous article, the student Asier Muguira.

As the recordings reveal, in the thin atmosphere of Mars acoustic phenomena different from those on Earth occur, such as, for example, the dispersion of sound at different frequencies of the human audible spectrum, or a greater attenuation of sound with distance due again to the low atmospheric density.

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