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Researching the effect of wind on Mars


An OU researcher has received a grant for £379,000 from the UK Space Agency to investigate the effect of wind on the landing site for the ExoMars Rover.

The project, Martian aeolian processes and landforms at the ExoMars Rover site: from orbit to surface, which is led by Dr Matt Balme, Senior Lecturer in the OU’s Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, aims to understand how the wind has shaped the Oxia Planum site on Mars, which is where the European Space Agency ExoMars rover will land in March 2021.

Dr Balme will collaborate with the University of Aberystwyth and Ulster University over the three-year duration of the project which begins in October 2019.

“In collaboration with our partners, we will use cutting-edge wind flow computer models to work out how the wind has transported sand at this site, and from this how much wind erosion there might have been, “said Dr Balme. “We will use field studies on Earth to test how the ExoMars instruments can be used to tell us about the effects of wind on Mars once we land.”

The main goal of the mission is to bring together the site’s environment history, as investigated from orbit, computer models, and on the ground observations, to give the best possible information about the sites erosional history and what this means for biosignature (evidence of past or present life) preservation.

“After landing, we will analyse the landscape using the ExoMars PanCam camera system to work out how the wind has affected the landscape at the local scale and try to calculate the amount of wind erosion there has been. We’ll use this information to help ExoMars’ main science goal: to search for preserved evidence of ancient life on Mars,” Dr Balme added.

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