Lab-based Martian analogue experiments investigating electric and magnetic fields of dust devils

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Dust devils – rotating vortices of lofted particulates formed by convection from solar heating - are a prevalent aspect of Martian weather. Within a dust devil, particles become charged through triboelectrification, and observations of terrestrial dust devils have revealed electric and magnetic fields. Understanding the behaviour of these aeolian events is vital for mission planning and duration, for example, with the Insight lander as a prime example of a mission cut short due to obscuration of solar panels by lofted dust, which is highly likely to be charged. Charged dust devils on Mars strongly imply the existence of electric discharges due to the low breakdown field. The existence of discharges would in turn imply a global electric circuit on the planet – with implications for organic chemical formation and methane losses.

This work presents a laboratory-based experimental set up for investigation into both electric and magnetic fields and the feasibility of using Martian analogue dust as alternative to in-situ measurements. In a dust devil, there are two main driving motions – a vertical separation of small and large particles, and the characteristic tight spiralling motion. The experimental set-up splits these components, allowing investigation into each. It is made up of a carefully designed cylindrical tank into which dusts or powders can be dropped to allow triboelectric charging as they fall under gravity. The base of the tank has a Faraday cup for charge measurement and there is also a field mill looking into the tank from the top. The rotational component is achieved using a paddle arrangement for samples placed in the base of the tank. Electric and magnetic fields have successfully been detected from charged dust with this system.
Original languageEnglish
Article number012020
JournalJournal of Physics: Conference Series
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Feb 2024
EventElectrostatics 2023 - Brunel University, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 4 Sept 20237 Sept 2023

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© Published under licence by IOP Publishing Ltd.


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