Mars’s surface hosts millions of towering dust devils every day

Aug 8, 2017

By Leah Crane

The Red Planet is plagued by devils. It now seems that Mars’s surface is teeming with 10 times as many dust devils as we thought.

These rotating columns of dust form around low-pressure air pockets and are common on Mars, where they send dust into the atmosphere, controlling the planet’s climate. To get a better understanding of the Martian climate, as well as potential risks for future Mars missions, we need to know how many dust devils there are, but the barometers on landers there can’t detect all of them.

“They are only going to detect the biggest dust devils that have the strongest dips in pressure, and when they do detect them they’re going to give you a skewed image of the structure of those dust devils,” says Brian Jackson at Boise State University in Idaho. That’s because there’s no way to determine if they’re sensing pressure changes at the edges or in the middle of a whirlwind.

Sensors can give us a snapshot of a small piece of the environment, but Jackson and his colleagues applied statistical methods to the barometer data to get a better idea of the full story.

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