Mars can be a terribly windy place, it turns out.
The Perseverance rover landed on the red planet in February 2021 carrying, among other instruments, a weather station called the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA). This instrument includes two wind sensors that measure speed and direction, among several other sensors that provide meteorological measurements such as humidity, radiation and air temperature.
Pebbles blown off by strong gusts from the Red Planet recently damaged one of the wind sensors, but MEDA can still track the wind at its landing zone in Jezero Crater, albeit with reduced sensitivity, said at Space José Antonio Rodriguez Manfredi, MEDA Principal Investigator. com.
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“At present, the capabilities of the sensor are reduced, but it still provides magnitudes of speed and direction,” Rodriguez Manfredi, a scientist at the Spanish Center for Astrobiology in Madrid, wrote in an email. “The whole team is readjusting the recovery procedure to get more accuracy from the readings from the healthy detector.”
The two roughly ruler-sized wind sensors on Perseverance are surrounded by six individual detectors that aim to give accurate readings from any direction, depending on the materials. (opens in a new tab) from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, which operates the rover.
Each of the two main wind sensors are attached to a pole that can fold out to keep the sensors away from the rover as it drives, as the car-sized Perseverance affects wind currents through its own movements through the thin Martian atmosphere, JPL officials said. .
Like all of Perseverance’s instruments, the wind sensor was designed with redundancy and protection in mind, Rodriguez Manfredi noted. “But of course there is a limit to everything.”
And for an instrument like MEDA, the limit is more difficult, because the sensors must be exposed to environmental conditions in order to record wind parameters. But when stronger-than-expected winds kicked up larger-than-expected rocks, the suit damaged some of the detector elements.
“Neither the predictions nor the experience we had from previous missions predicted such strong winds, nor so much bulk material of this nature,” Rodriguez Manfredi said. (He’s also been the principal investigator of another temperature and wind sensor on NASA’s InSight lander on the Red Planet since November 2018 and is expected to complete his mission this year.)
He added that it was ironic that the sensors were damaged by the wind, or “precisely what we went for”.
Perseverance landed on Mars on February 18, 2021 and, with a helicopter called Ingenuity, is exploring an ancient river delta that may have been rich in microbes billions of years ago.
In addition to measuring wind, weather and rock composition, the rover retrieves the most promising materials to cache for a future sample-return mission to send samples to Earth in the 2030s.