One of many huge challenges of Mars exploration is one thing very small: mud. Effective mud covers a lot of the martian floor, and excessive winds and low gravity imply the mud is well whipped up off the floor, overlaying photo voltaic panels and gumming up elements. The Ingenuity helicopter has had its personal issues with mud on its photo voltaic panels, limiting the quantity of energy it might draw from the solar.

Now, researchers have used information from Ingenuity to know extra about how mud strikes within the martian air, studying in regards to the dynamics of mud, which might assist future missions cope with this ongoing downside.

The Ingenuity helicopter rests on the floor of Mars. NASA

Researchers from the Stevens Institute of Expertise, the Area Science Institute, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory took information from Ingenuity’s flights to watch how mud moved round from the floor and into the air when the helicopter took off, hovered, maneuvered, and landed. Even a fast have a look at video footage reveals simply how a lot mud is stirred up by the helicopter, though it’s tiny and light-weight:

“There’s a motive that helicopter pilots on Earth want to land on helipads,” mentioned one of many researchers, Jason Rabinovitch, in a assertion. “When a helicopter lands within the desert, its downdraft can fire up sufficient mud to trigger a zero-visibility ‘brownout’ — and Mars is successfully one huge desert.”

The researchers additionally checked out footage of the helicopter that was captured by the Perseverance rover. This helped them mannequin how a lot mud was kicked up, and measure each the mass and dimension of mud clouds.

“It was thrilling to see [how] the Mastcam-Z video from Perseverance, which was taken for engineering causes, ended up exhibiting Ingenuity lifting a lot mud from the floor that it opened a brand new line of analysis,” mentioned one other of the researchers, Mark Lemmon.

The outcomes confirmed that every time Ingenuity flies, it kicks up round 4 kilos of mud — equal to round one thousandth of its personal mass. That is far more than a helicopter on Earth would fire up, as a result of there are such a lot of various factors to contemplate on one other planet.

“When you consider mud on Mars, you need to think about not simply the decrease gravity, but additionally the consequences of air stress, temperature, air density — there’s so much we don’t but absolutely perceive,” Rabinovich mentioned.

Understanding how mud strikes on Mars is critical not just for constructing robots that may survive the dusty setting, but additionally to assist make landings safer as the quantity of mud within the environment can have an effect on how a spacecraft lands. This might be vital for future Mars missions just like the deliberate Mars Pattern Return mission, and likewise any future crew missions to the pink planet.

The analysis is printed within the Journal of Geophysical Analysis: Planets.

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