Vortex-dominated aeolian activity at InSight's landing site, Part 1: Multi-instrument Observations, Analysis and Implications

Research areas:
Aeolian changes at the InSight landing site on Mars, Convective vortices as a primary driver of particle motion, Passing vortices lifing dust are correlated with magnetic signatures, Surface creep, dust lifting and saltation, Multi-instrument measurements
  • C. Charalambous
  • B. McClean J.
  • M. Baker
  • W. T. Pike
  • M. Golombek
  • M. Lemmon
  • Véronique Ansan
  • Clément Perrin
  • A. Spiga
  • R. Lorenz
  • M. E. Banks
  • N. Murdoch
  • S. Rodriguez
  • C. M. Weitz
  • J. A. Grant
  • N. H. Warner
  • J. Garvin
  • I. J. Daubar
  • E. Hauber
  • A. E. Stott
  • C. L. Johnson
  • A. Mittelholz
  • T. Warren
  • S. Navarro
  • L. M. Sotomayor
  • J. Maki
  • A. Lucas
  • D. Banfield
  • C. Newman
  • D. Viúdez-Moreiras
  • J. Pla-García
  • P. Lognonné
  • W. B. Banerdt
Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets
e2020JE006757 2020JE006757
Abstract We report the aeolian changes observed in situ by NASA’s InSight lander during the first 400 sols of operations: granule creep, saltation, dust removal and the formation of dark surface tracks. Aeolian changes are infrequent and sporadic. However, on sols when they do occur, they consistently appear between noon to 3 pm, and are associated with the passage of convective vortices during periods of high vortex activity. Aeolian changes are more frequent at elevated locations, such as the top surfaces of rocks and lander footpads. InSight observed these changes using, for the first time, simultaneous in-situ and orbital imaging and high-frequency meteorological, seismological, and magnetic measurements. Seismometer measurements of ground acceleration constrain the timing and trajectory of convective vortex encounters, linking surface changes to source vortices. Magnetometer measurements show perturbations in magnetic field strength during the passage of convective vortices consistent with charged-particle motion. Detachment of sand-scale particles occurs when high background winds and vortex-induced turbulence provide a peak surface friction wind speed above the classic saltation fluid threshold. However, detachment of dust- and granule-scale particles also occurred when the surface friction wind speed remained below this threshold. This may be explained by local enhancement of the surface roughness and other effects described here and further studied in Part 2 (Baker et al., 2020 this issue). The lack of saltation and bright dust-coated surfaces at the InSight landing site implies surface stability and the onset of particle motion may be suppressed by dust ‘cushioning’. This differentiates the InSight landing site from other areas on Mars that exhibit more aeolian activity.