“We think these gust-liftings are infrequent but could be responsible for a large fraction of the background dust that hovers all the time in the Martian atmosphere,” Newman said.
Why Is Jezero Different?
While wind and dust are prevalent all over Mars, what the researchers are finding seems to set Jezero apart. This greater activity may be linked to the crater being near what Newman describes as a “dust storm track” that runs north to south across the planet, often lifting dust during the dust storm season.
Newman added that the greater activity in Jezero could be due to factors such as the roughness of its surface, which can make it easier for the wind to lift dust. That could be one explanation why NASA’s InSight lander – in Elysium Planitia, about 2,145 miles (3,452 kilometers) away from Jezero Crater – is still waiting for a whirlwind to clear its dust-laden solar panels, while Perseverance has already measured nearby surface dust removal by several passing whirlwinds.
“Perseverance is nuclear-powered, but if we had solar panels instead, we probably wouldn’t have to worry about dust buildup,” Newman said. “There’s generally just more dust lifting in Jezero Crater, though average wind speeds are lower there and peak wind speeds and whirlwind activity are comparable to Elysium Planitia.”
In fact, Jezero’s dust lifting has been more intense than the team would have wanted: Sand carried in whirlwinds damaged MEDA’s two wind sensors. The team suspects the sand grains harmed the thin wiring on the wind sensors, which stick out 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 blown in the wind, and likely carried in whirlwinds, also damaged one of the Curiosity rover’s wind sensors (Curiosity’s other wind sensor was damaged by debris churned up during its landing in Gale Crater).
With Curiosity’s damage in mind, the Perseverance team provided an additional protective coating to MEDA’s wires. Yet Jezero’s weather still got the best of them. De la Torre Juarez said the team is testing software changes that should allow the wind sensors to keep working.
“We collected a lot of great science data,” de la Torre Juarez said. “The wind sensors are seriously impacted, ironically, because we got what we wanted to measure.”
More About the Mission
A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).
Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.
JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.
For more about Perseverance: