Inferring Vortex and Dust Devil Statistics from InSight

Research areas:
Year:
2021
Keywords:
Mars,Planetary atmospheres
Authors:
  • Brian Jackson
  • Justin Crevier
  • Michelle Szurgot
  • Ryan Battin
  • Clément Perrin
  • Sébastien Rodriguez
Journal:
The Planetary Science Journal
Volume:
2
Number:
5
Pages:
206
Month:
October
ISSN:
2632-3338
BibTex:
Abstract:
The InSight mission has operated on the surface of Mars for nearly two Earth years, returning detections of the first Marsquakes. The lander also deployed a meteorological instrument package and cameras to monitor local surface activity. These instruments have detected boundary layer phenomena, including small-scale vortices. These vortices register as short-lived, negative pressure excursions and closely resemble those that could generate dust devils. Although our analysis shows InSight encountered more than 900 vortices and collected more than 1000 images of the martian surface, no active dust devils were imaged. In spite of the lack of dust devil detections, we can leverage the vortex detections and InSight's daily wind speed measurements to learn about the boundary layer processes that create dust devils. We discuss our analysis of InSight's meteorological data to assess the statistics of vortex and dust devil activity. We also infer encounter distances for the vortices and, therefrom, the maximum vortex wind speeds. Surveying the available imagery, we place upper limits on what fraction of vortices carry dust (i.e., how many are bonafide dust devils) and estimate threshold wind speeds for dust lifting. Comparing our results to detections of dust devil tracks seen in space-based observations of the InSight landing site, we can also infer thresholds and frequency of track formation by vortices. Comparing vortex encounters and parameters with advective wind speeds, we find evidence that high wind speeds at InSight may have suppressed the formation of dust devils, explaining the lack of imaged dust devils.