Why a Smithsonian Researcher Is Tracking the Wind on Mars | At the Smithsonian


When Perseverance touches down February 18 on the Red Planet, Mariah Baker will probably be learning the information coming again on the stay feed from a strategically essential location: her front room right here on Earth.

While a member of the Mars mission staff, the post-doctoral fellow at the Smithsonian’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the National Air and Space Museum will probably be reviewing details and figures relayed again by the rover from her laptop computer at house. “Because of Covid-19 protocols, I will be working remotely, not at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California,” Baker says.

The JPL and NASA challenge, which incorporates a rocket-powered sky crane and car-sized rover, will land in Jezero crater to seek for indicators of historic microbial life on Mars. While that occurs, Baker will probably be reviewing for proof of “aeolian processes.” No, she gained’t be on the lookout for little inexperienced aliens on the floor of Mars. Baker research the wind-driven motion of sand and mud. Aeolian comes from the identify of the Greek god Aeolus, the keeper of the winds.

“Prior to robotic exploration of Mars, we didn’t think there was a lot of wind-driven activity because the atmosphere is so thin,” she says. “However, we’ve discovered that Mars is a very active place. These missions give us a chance to study aeolian activity from the surface.”

As Mars missions go, Baker is an previous professional. She has been a scientist on Curiosity since 2015 and InSight since 2018. For Perseverance, Baker plans to conduct related analysis to what she did on these expeditions.

“I use images taken from the spacecraft and meteorological data to understand how wind is transporting sand and dust across the surface—and sometimes on the spacecraft,” she says. “It’s really important for our scientific understanding of geologic and climactic processes on Mars. This helps us keep landed instruments safe. Potentially, for human explorers in the future, it helps us understand the surface environment and risks posed by dust and sand.”

Kathryn Stack Morgan, Mars 2020 deputy challenge scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, says Baker’s work is essential to understanding how situations modified over the previous billion years from a planet with giant quantities of water to the dry and dusty floor we see as we speak. Equipped with anemometer, spectrometer and different scientific tools, the rover will allow her to look intently at particulate matter and determine what is going on.

“Mariah’s research will help us understand how ancient Mars evolved,” she says. “By learning how wind and sand move around the planet, we get a better idea of the evolutionary process that led to what is there now on modern Mars. This will help us with future exploration as we move forward to a manned mission with human explorers.”

One of the issues Baker will take a look at is the motion of piles of mud like the ones created when Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012. “The Curiosity rover drilled holes and left powder behind,” Stack Morgan says. The new Mars staff will make related drill holes and Baker will observe these piles to see how they’ve modified over the course of the mission. “This will permit us to doc how rapidly they’ve moved due to wind so we perceive how these processes have developed,” says Stack Morgan.

Mariner 9 confirmed that the floor of Mars intently resembled that of the moon. But the form of the craters and canyons discovered there counsel that at one level, its floor was overrun by flowing water.

Mission professionals will get a likelihood to see Baker and different scientists from the Center for Earth and Planetary Science on tv simply earlier than the touchdown. The Smithsonian Channel is premiering “Making Tracks on Mars” this week with reveals airing February 17, 18 and 19.

On the program, Baker will probably be in the center of a sand dune on Earth explaining how wind shapes the Martian floor. Also featured will probably be the Smithsonian’s Jim Zimbelman, Sharon Purdy, John Grant, Bruce Campbell and Ross Irwin.

Fortunately, “Making Tracks on Mars” was filmed properly prematurely of the Perseverance touchdown scheduled for February 18, which is a good factor as a result of viewers gained’t see darkish circles below Baker’s eyes. Once the mission begins, staff should work odd, late-night hours on Earth to align with the Martian day, which is 40 minutes longer than a day right here.

“There will be times when I will be up all night in my living room,” she says. “It will be interesting.”

In simply a few months in 2018, the panorama of Mars appeared to vanish, as a thick, pink cloud enveloped the planet. It was one in all Mars’ signature sand storms–obscuring the total floor.

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