Don Banfield, a senior research associate specializing in planetary sciences at Cornell University, monitors dust storms and atmospheric science on the red planet. He says it's important to consider the risks associated with dust storms, like the one that has silenced the Opportunity rover, when designing future missions to Mars.
Cornell professors, researchers and students designed, built and outfitted Opportunity’s scientific instruments and mission accoutrements. Since Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004, the Cornell MER Team has analyzed the extensive data returned from the rovers and have provided new research insight in the composition of Mars and the possibility of water on the red planet. More information is available here.
“Dust on Mars gets lofted tens of kilometers into the air and in such quantities – like now – that it significantly changes the sunlight reaching the ground and the heat deposited in the air from the sunlight.
“But we don’t fully understand how dust is lofted at Mars in such quantities and how dust storms can have the feedback needed to go from local storms that happen frequently, to the global dust storms that happen only every several Mars years. When we have people on Mars, being able to better predict dust storms at Mars will be important because dust coating everything could wear bearings down, break down seals, and probably isn’t good for human consumption.
“We need to consider the risks associated with these dust storms when designing future missions to Mars, not only in sizing their power sources (if they are solar powered), but also in terms of how the dust atmospheric heating changes the thickness of the atmosphere when the lander is coming down to the surface and expecting a certain air density to slow it down.”
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