NMSU grad student researching weather on Mars
By ABC-7's Jared Ortega
As meteorologists often remind us, chasing storms here on Earth is a hard task.
But one New Mexico State University graduate student will be chasing storms on Mars - remotely, of course.
With NASA'S stated goal to put astronauts on Mars by 2030, Robert Edmonds' research may be crucial in keeping those astronauts safe.
"The simplest way to describe it is I'm like the Mars weather man," Edmonds said.
He has been awarded a $30,000 NASA fellowship to investigate what causes these massive dust storms in the martian atmosphere.
"The goal of this project is to determine if mountains and topography which generate waves in the atmosphere have the ability to affect the development of dust storms," Edmonds said.
His theory is that these gravity waves are what cause the massive dust storms that can completely consume the entire planet.
Edmonds said that when air passes over the Organ Mountains in Las Cruces, it creates turbulence in the upper atmosphere that can rattle aircraft passing far above its peaks. He said the same thing occurs in the Martian atmosphere and that turbulence could be what picks up all that red dust.
NMSU professor Dr. James Murphy said dust storms on Mars can reach speeds anywhere between 60 to 200 miles an hour.
"All the materials you have on the surface will be coated with dust and in general that's going to be a bad thing rather than a good thing for the equipment that is part of the science effort as well as the survival effort for the astronauts," Murphy said.
With the help from data obtained from the Mars reconnaissance orbiter currently circling the planet, Edmonds is able to study gravity waves in the upper atmosphere.
He said if all goes well with the research, future astronauts will be able to forecast the weather on the surface of Mars.
"If there is this link in what I call gravity waves and dust storms, if that can be established, it would allow us to forecast dust storms that astronauts would encounter," Edmonds said.
NASA's newest lab rover is expected to land on the surface of Mars on Aug. 5 or 6.
It may be a while until he can get his has on that data, but Edmonds said he looks forward to using it to aid in his research.
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