A team of three Irish scientists, one of which is an Assistant Professor at Trinity, have this morning published a paper explaining how they have established that sand-dunes on Mars influence local wind speeds on the planet and how these winds in turn shape sand-dunes.
The paper, titled “The dune effect on sand-transporting winds on Mars”, is significant not just because it extends what is known about the Earth’s neighbour, but also as the findings can aid future spacecraft landings on the Red Planet as knowing how winds blow will be a vital aid to the voyages’ success. The current two Rovers on the planet, Curiosity and Opportunity, can use this information to help them anticipate “when high winds kick up”.
The Trinity representative on the team is Assistant Professor of Geography Dr Mary Bourke. In a press release, she explained that the investigations were conducted with the intention of gaining a “much more accurate insight” into how “the wind blows on Mars”. With this improved understanding, Dr Bourke stated that “we now have a better platform from which to consider how Martian landforms have evolved, and how they will evolve when structures such as spacecraft disturb them in the future.”
The team carried out their work by using image data from the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and compared this information by observing patterns observed on sand dunes in Northern Ireland. They found that ripples on the dunes moved around 1.5 metres per year.
The scientists concluded that current large-scale models ignore how winds move over the more complex surfaces on Mars.