Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Electric Martian Dust Devils Could Prove Hazardous For Space Travelers

Date:
May 20, 2004
Source:
University Of Michigan
Summary:
University of Michigan scientists have found clues that dust devils on Mars might have high-voltage electric fields, which means the so-called mini-tornados could be hazardous for both human and robotic space explorers.

This is an artist's concept illustrating what an electrified Martian dust devil might look like. The whitish glow near the bottom is the result of an electrical discharge. The low-pressure Martian atmosphere gives it a high near-surface electrical conductivity, resulting in the glowing electrical discharge.
Credit: University of Michigan

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- University of Michigan scientists have found clues that dust devils on Mars might have high-voltage electric fields, which means the so-called mini-tornados could be hazardous for both human and robotic space explorers.

NASA and university researchers discovered that dust devils on Earth have unexpectedly large electric fields, in excess of 10,000 volts per meter, and can generate magnetic fields as well. If Martian dust grains have a variety of sizes and compositions, dust devils on Mars should become electrified in the same way as their particles rub against each other, according to the team.

This research supports NASA's Vision for Space Exploration by helping to understand what challenges the Martian environment presents to explorers, both robotic and eventually human.

"Two ingredients, present on both Earth and Mars, are necessary for a dust devil to form: rising air and a source of rotation," said Nilton Renno, associate professor in atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences and an expert on the thermodynamics and fluid dynamics of dust devils. Renno is the principal investigator of a National Science Foundation project that supported the 2002 field campaign to track and measure dust devils here on Earth. The goal of Renno's ongoing NSF research is to study the role of dust devils on aerosol transport in the Earth's atmosnphere.

"Dust devils are common on Mars, and NASA is interested in them as well as other phenomena as a possible nuisance or hazard to future human explorers," said Dr. William Farrell of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "If Martian dust devils are highly electrified, as our research suggests, they might give rise to increased discharging or arcing in the low-pressure Martian atmosphere, increased dust adhesion to space suits and equipment, and interference with radio communications."

Dust devils are like miniature tornadoes, about 10 to 100 meters wide with 20- to 60-mile-per-hour (32- to 96-km/hr) winds swirling around a hot column of rising air.

"Complex tracks, generated by the large Martian dust devils, are commonly found in many regions of Mars, and several dust devils have been photographed in the act of scouring the surface," said Peter Smith of the University of Arizona (Tucson) who led the 2002 MATADOR (Martian Atmosphere and Dust in the Optical and Radio) activity, that studied dust devils on Earth, with Renno. "These Martian dust devils dwarf the 5- to 10-meter terrestrial ones and can be greater than 500 meters in diameter and several thousand meters high. The track patterns are known to change from season to season, so these huge dust pipes must be a large factor in transporting dust and could be responsible for eroding landforms."

Dust particles become electrified in dust devils when they rub against each other as they are carried by the winds, transferring positive and negative electric charge in the same way you build up static electricity if you shuffle across a carpet.

The team MATADOR includes researchers from NASA Goddard, NASA Glenn (Cleveland, Ohio), NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena, Calif.), University of Arizona (Tucson), University of California (Berkeley), SETI Institute (Mountain View, Calif.), University of Washington (Seattle), University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), and Duke University (Durham, N.C.).

Related links:

NASA - Goddard Space Flight Center story -- http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/topstory/2004/0420marsdust.html

American Geophysical Union story -- http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2003/2003GL017879.shtml

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory -- http://marsrovers.nasa.gov/home/index.html

Nilton Renno -- http://aoss.engin.umich.edu/go/index1.php?id1=10&id2=1&id3=35**


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Michigan. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Michigan. "Electric Martian Dust Devils Could Prove Hazardous For Space Travelers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 May 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/05/040520062226.htm>.
University Of Michigan. (2004, May 20). Electric Martian Dust Devils Could Prove Hazardous For Space Travelers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/05/040520062226.htm
University Of Michigan. "Electric Martian Dust Devils Could Prove Hazardous For Space Travelers." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/05/040520062226.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Supply Ship Takes Off for International Space Station

Supply Ship Takes Off for International Space Station

AFP (July 30, 2014) The European Space Agency's fifth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-5) is takes off to the International Space Station on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana. Duration: 00:34 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship

Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship

AP (July 30, 2014) Arianespace launched a rocket Tuesday from French Guiana carrying a robotic cargo ship to deliver provisions to the International Space Station. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

AP (July 30, 2014) Every summer, tourists make the pilgrimage to Chincoteague Island, Va. to see wild ponies cross the Assateague Channel. But, it's the rockets sending to supplies to the International Space Station that are making this a year-round destination. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Newsy (July 27, 2014) The satellite is back under ground control after a tense few days, but with a gecko sex experiment on board, the media just couldn't help themselves. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins