Dusty Mars–Bad. Windy Mars–Good.

My favorite writer about planetary science is, hands down, Emily Lakdawalla. She writes an occasional article for Sky & Telescope magazine, whose editor informed me on a recent astronomy-themed tour that “Emily is the consummate professional”. Where you can really keep up with her interests, however, is her blog at the Planetary Society website.

Here is a link to a post that gives you some idea of the sorts of things you can find here. The Mars rovers accumulate dust on their surfaces over time. For the Opportunity rover, still rolling after 10 years on Mars, this can be a real problem. It is powered by solar cells, and accumulated dust blocks sunlight and reduces the available power. The Curiosity rover that landed in August 2012 is powered by a radioisotope thermal generator (a slug of radioactive plutonium gives off heat which is converted to electrical energy), so power is not a problem. Mars is dusty, but it is also windy, and if you’re lucky, the wind will blow off the dust. Take a look here. Be sure to use the green slider in both images for before-and-after comparisons.

Ms. Lakdawalla is hard at work on an upcoming book, tentatively titled “Curiosity on Mars”, which will certainly find an eager buyer in this author. One interesting side note: in her extended biography, she states that her two year experience of teaching convinced her that a teacher’s life is very hard!

Posted in Mars, Planets

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