With an eye on Mars, NASA’s algorithm fights dust whirlwinds on Earth

For years, space agencies have turned to analog missions on Earth to prepare for robotic and crewed missions to other worlds. The researchers also studied terrestrial phenomena to understand what natural processes are happening elsewhere. The latest program to join the analog catalog is NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) study in California, which analyzes dust devils on Earth to learn about their counterpart on Mars.

In a presentation Wednesday (December 7) at the 183rd meeting of the American Acoustic Society in Nashville, Louis Hurteco, an undergraduate researcher at JPL, detailed his study of his group of dust vortices, or short eddies, in the Mojave Desert. .

“The abundance of dust devils on Mars can affect the duration of many missions. In fact, dust whirlwinds have already played a role in past missions,” Urtejo said in a statement. “The lives of the Opportunity and Spirit rovers were extended because friendly dust devils blew the dust off their solar panels. But Opportunity ended up falling victim to a global dust storm on Mars, showing the importance of dust pollution in the atmosphere.”

RELATED: Martian Dust Devil! Curiosity rover discovers twister on the Red Planet (photo)

Given the limited resources of Mars, it is difficult to study Martian dust vortices in depth. Fortunately, this phenomenon often occurs in the deserts of the Earth.

The JPL team is analyzing seven years of pressure data from microbarometers at the Nevada Nuclear Security Center in the Mojave Desert looking for telltale signs of dust vortices: pressure drops at the center of the vortices that fluctuate like an electrocardiogram (ECG). signal. With so much information to sift through, the team developed an automatic detection algorithm to identify relevant data. Eventually, the team will tailor their analysis of dust vortices to Martian atmospheric conditions.

“We hope that with our dust devil detector, we can learn more about the formation characteristics of convective eddies and how they move across different landscapes,” Urtejo said. “This will improve the accuracy of Martian weather models, which will directly affect not only the understanding of dust cycles on Mars and the role they have played in its evolution, but also the operation of future robotic and possibly manned missions.”

Follow Stefanie Waldek on Twitter @StefanieWaldek. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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