“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 lane” 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 nearby surface dusting by several passing whirlpools.
“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, the dusting of Jezero was more intense than the team would have liked: the sand transported in whirlwinds damaged MEDA’s two wind sensors. The team suspects that the sand grains have 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 sensors are seriously impacted, ironically, because we got what we wanted to measure.”
Learn more about the mission
A key focus of Perseverance’s mission to Mars is astrobiology, including searching for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s past geology and 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 the ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for further 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, Calif., built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.
To learn more about perseverance: