Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

NASA's Phoenix Lander Sees, Feels Martian Whirlwinds In Action

Date:
September 15, 2008
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has photographed several dust devils dancing across the arctic plain this week and sensed a dip in air pressure as one passed near the lander. These dust-lofting whirlwinds had been expected in the area, but none had been detected in earlier Phoenix images.

The Surface Stereo Imager on NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander caught this dust devil in action west of the lander at 11:49 a.m. local Mars time on Sol 104, or the 104th Martian day of the mission, Sept. 9, 2008.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Texas A&M University

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has photographed several dust devils dancing across the arctic plain this week and sensed a dip in air pressure as one passed near the lander.

Related Articles


These dust-lofting whirlwinds had been expected in the area, but none had been detected in earlier Phoenix images.

The Surface Stereo Imager camera on Phoenix took 29 images of the western and southwestern horizon on Sept. 8, during mid-day hours of the lander's 104th Martian day. The next day, after the images had been transmitted to Earth, the Phoenix science team noticed a dust devil right away.

"It was a surprise to have a dust devil so visible that it stood with just the normal processing we do," said Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, College Station, lead scientist for the stereo camera. "Once we saw a couple that way, we did some additional processing and found there are dust devils in 12 of the images."

At least six different dust devils appear in the images, some of them in more than one image. They range in diameter from about 2 meters (7 feet) to about 5 meters (16 feet).

"It will be very interesting to watch over the next days and weeks to see if there are lots of dust devils or if this was an isolated event," Lemmon said.

The Phoenix team is not worried about any damage to the spacecraft from these swirling winds. "With the thin atmosphere on Mars, the wind loads we might experience from dust devil winds are well within the design of the vehicle," said Ed Sedivy, Phoenix program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Denver, which made the spacecraft. "The lander is very rigid with the exception of the solar arrays, which once deployed, latched into position and became a tension structure."

Phoenix monitors air pressure every day, and on the same day the camera saw dust devils, the pressure meter recorded a sharper dip than ever before. The change was still less than the daily change in air pressure from daytime to nighttime, but over a much shorter time.

"Throughout the mission, we have been detecting vortex structures that lower the pressure for 20 to 30 seconds during the middle part of the day," said Peter Taylor of York University, Toronto, Canada, a member of the Phoenix science team. "In the last few weeks, we've seen the intensity increasing, and now these vortices appear to have become strong enough to pick up dust."

A key factor in the whirlwinds getting stronger is an increase in the difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures. Daytime highs at the Phoenix site are still about minus 30 Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit), but nighttime lows have been dropping a few degrees, getting close to minus 90 Celsius (minus 130 Fahrenheit).

The same day as the dust devils were seen, the photographed swinging of Phoenix's telltale wind gauge indicated wind speeds exceeding 5 meters per second (11 miles per hour).

Images from spacecraft orbiting Mars had previously indicated that dust devils exist in the region where Phoenix landed.

"We expected dust devils, but we are not sure how frequently," said Phoenix Project Scientist Leslie Tamppari of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "It could be they are rare and Phoenix got lucky. We'll keep looking for dust devils at the Phoenix site to see if they are common or not."

The dust devils that Phoenix has observed so far are much smaller than dust devils that NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit has photographed much closer to the equator.

The Phoenix mission is led by Peter Smith at the University of Arizona with project management at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and development partnership at Lockheed Martin in Denver. International contributions come from the Canadian Space Agency; the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland; the universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus in Denmark; the Max Planck Institute in Germany; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

For more about Phoenix, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix or http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "NASA's Phoenix Lander Sees, Feels Martian Whirlwinds In Action." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 September 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080914222123.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2008, September 15). NASA's Phoenix Lander Sees, Feels Martian Whirlwinds In Action. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080914222123.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "NASA's Phoenix Lander Sees, Feels Martian Whirlwinds In Action." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080914222123.htm (accessed October 24, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Friday, October 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: China Launches Moon Orbiter

Raw: China Launches Moon Orbiter

AP (Oct. 24, 2014) China launched an experimental spacecraft Friday to fly around the moon and back to Earth in preparation for the country's first unmanned return trip to the lunar surface. (Oct. 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
China Prepares Unmanned Mission To Lunar Orbit

China Prepares Unmanned Mission To Lunar Orbit

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) The mission is China's next step toward automated sample-return missions and eventual manned missions to the moon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Russian Cosmonauts Kick Off Final Spacewalk of 2014

Russian Cosmonauts Kick Off Final Spacewalk of 2014

Reuters - US Online Video (Oct. 22, 2014) Russian cosmonauts Maxim Suraev and Alexander Samokutyaev step outside the International Space Station to perform work on the exterior of the station's Russian module. Rough Cut (no reporter narration) Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Comet Siding Spring Grazes Mars' Atmosphere

Comet Siding Spring Grazes Mars' Atmosphere

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) A comet from the farthest reaches of the solar system passed extremely close to Mars this weekend, giving astronomers a rare opportunity to study it. 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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

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