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NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover

November 16, 2012 by  

Mars Curiosity Rover, Observations of wind patterns and natural radiation patterns on Mars by NASA’s Curiosity rover are helping scientists better understand the environment on the Red Planet’s surface.

Researchers using the car-sized mobile laboratory have identified transient whirlwinds, mapped winds in relation to slopes, tracked daily and seasonal changes in air pressure, and linked rhythmic changes in radiation to daily atmospheric changes. The knowledge being gained about these processes helps scientists interpret evidence about environmental changes on Mars that might have led to conditions favorable for life.

During the first 12 weeks after Curiosity landed in an area named Gale Crater, an international team of researchers analyzed data from more than 20 atmospheric events with at least one characteristic of a whirlwind recorded by the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) instrument. Those characteristics can include a brief dip in air pressure, a change in wind direction, a change in wind speed, a rise in air temperature or a dip in ultraviolet light reaching the rover. Two of the events included all five characteristics.

In many regions of Mars, dust-devil tracks and shadows have been seen from orbit, but those visual clues have not been seen in Gale Crater. One possibility is that vortex whirlwinds arise at Gale without lifting as much dust as they do elsewhere.

“Dust in the atmosphere has a major role in shaping the climate on Mars,” said Manuel de la Torre Juarez of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA. He is the investigation scientist for REMS, which Spain provided for the mission. “The dust lifted by dust devils and dust storms warms the atmosphere.”

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