Aeolian processes at the Mars Exploration Rover Meridiani Planum landing site

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Abstract

The martian surface is a natural laboratory for testing our understanding of the physics of aeolian (wind-related) processes in an environment different from that of Earth. Martian surface markings and atmospheric opacity are time-variable, indicating that fine particles at the surface are mobilized regularly by wind1,2,3. Regolith (unconsolidated surface material) at the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity's landing site has been affected greatly by wind, which has created and reoriented bedforms, sorted grains, and eroded bedrock. Aeolian features here preserve a unique record of changing wind direction and wind strength. Here we present an in situ examination of a martian bright wind streak, which provides evidence consistent with a previously proposed formational model4,5 for such features. We also show that a widely used criterion for distinguishing between aeolian saltation- and suspension-dominated grain behaviour is different on Mars, and that estimated wind friction speeds between 2 and 3 m s-1, most recently from the northwest, are associated with recent global dust storms, providing ground truth for climate model predictions.

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Figure 1: Bright wind streaks on Meridiani Planum.
Figure 2: Bedforms and ventifacts at Meridiani Planum.
Figure 3: Orientations of rock tails, plains ripples, basaltic sand ripples on the floor of Eagle crater, and the Eagle crater bright wind streak.

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Acknowledgements

This work was performed for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. We are grateful for the efforts of the Mars Exploration Rover development and operations teams that made this work possible. We acknowledge the use of Mars Orbiter Camera images processed by Malin Space Science Systems that are available at http://www.msss.com/moc_gallery/. Authors Contributions J.F.B. and W.C. provided Pancam and MiniTES analyses, respectively, of bright streak material. W.A.W. measured all rock tails. D.F. discovered the time dependence of wind streak orientations in MOC images. D.M. reviewed the APXS linear mixing work of R.S. R.S. also measured the ripple orientations, calculated u*t and u values, worked out the aeolian history of the site, identified the discrepancy between particle size of basaltic ripples and uF/u*t ratio, and drafted the original and revised manuscripts. D.J. contributed key points relating to deflation at the site. R.S., D.J. and D.B. worked on potential explanations for the low uF/u*t ratio mobility of the basaltic sand. L.A.S. led the Science Operations Working Group during the bright streak rover operations. A.Y. advised on APXS calibration issues. All authors, particularly M.M., provided significant scientific guidance and/or editorial inputs.

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Correspondence to R. Sullivan.

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Sullivan, R., Banfield, D., Bell, J. et al. Aeolian processes at the Mars Exploration Rover Meridiani Planum landing site. Nature 436, 58–61 (2005) doi:10.1038/nature03641

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