December 1, 2022

Martian Atmospheric Breakdown: Helicopters Flying on Mars May Glow at Dusk

Triboelectric charging happens when friction transfers electric charge in between things, like when a person rubs a balloon against their hair or sweatshirt. The electrified balloon will bring in the persons hair triggering it to raise towards the balloon– which shows that the balloon has actually developed a big electric field from the triboelectric charging procedure.
The group applied laboratory measurements and utilized computer modeling to investigate how electric charge might build up on a drones rotor blades. Charge accumulation also takes place on terrestrial helicopter blades, specifically in dusty environments, so the team also used analyses and modeling of the charging from terrestrial helicopters as a basis for understanding the Mars case.
They discovered that as the drones blades spin, they encounter tiny dust grains in the Martian air, specifically when the helicopter is near the surface and blowing dust around. As the blades affect the grains, charge is moved, developing on the blades and producing an electrical field. As charge builds to high levels, the environment begins to conduct electrical energy, a process known as “atmospheric breakdown,” developing a population of electrons that form an improved electrical present that acts to dissipate or balance out the charge accumulation on the rotorcraft.
The group discovered that breakdown begins as an undetectable “electron avalanche.” Electrons are very small particles with negative electrical charge. The charge makes electrons respond to electric fields– attracted to a field generated by positive charge and pushed back from a field generated by unfavorable charge. Free electrons– those not bound to an atom– in an electrically conducting material such as a copper wire are accountable for the flow of electrical current. Atmospheres can have free electrons as well, and the couple of free electrons in the Martian air feel the force of the electrical field from the rotorcraft and crash into atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) particles. The impact liberates more electrons from CO2 particles, which amplifies the existing.
The Martian atmosphere is extremely thin, at the surface just about one percent of the pressure of Earths atmosphere at sea level. This very low pressure makes breakdown most likely. On Mars, the particles that make up the atmosphere are spaced more apart than in an environment like Earths, because they are less dense. Think about the electric field moving the totally free electrons just like a cars and truck at the start of a drag race. If there are numerous large obstacles along the path, the speeding up vehicle might strike them and slow down (or stop). The accidents limit the automobiles speed to stay reasonably slow. However, if the obstacles are extremely widely spaced, that same cars and truck will now accelerate to high velocities prior to hitting the barrier. Likewise, the additional space in Martian air gives complimentary electrons a higher path for velocity before they crash into a molecule, so they can reach the needed velocity to start other electrons from the CO2 particles and start an electron avalanche within a relatively low electric field of around 30,000 volts per meter (1 meter has to do with 3.3 feet). In the world, the very same electron avalanche can take place, but in the denser environment, the electrical fields should be much larger, about 3,000,000 volts per meter.
Although the currents created by a drone flying in the environment are small, they may be big enough to trigger the air around the blades and other parts of the craft to start the electron avalanche and perhaps even radiance a blue-purple color.
Nevertheless, the scientists acknowledge that their outcome is a forecast, and in some cases nature has other plans. “In theory, there need to be some result, but whether the electron avalanche is strong enough to produce a glow, and if any weak glow is observable throughout operations all remain to be determined in future drone flights on Mars,” says Farrell “In fact, one could even put little electrometers up near the blade and at the legs to keep an eye on the effects of any charging. This kind of electrical monitor could be of both scientific worth and supply crucial input on drone health during the flight.”
Referral: “Will the Mars Helicopter Induce Local Martian Atmospheric Breakdown?” by W. M. Farrell, J. L. McLain, J. R. Marshall and A. Wang, 10 March 2021, The Planetary Science Journal.DOI: 10.3847/ PSJ/abe1c3.
The research study was moneyed by NASA under the NASA Internal Science Funding Model and its Fundamental Laboratory Research (FLaRe) program, along with a NASA grant moneyed under the Solar System Workings program.

This is an artists principle of a glow surrounding a drone at Mars throughout flight. The radiance, exaggerated for presence, might happen if the drones spinning rotor blades produce an electric field that causes electrical currents to flow in the Martian air around the craft. Although the currents created by the drone in the atmosphere are little, they might be large enough to cause the air around the blades and other parts of the craft to radiance a blue-purple color. Credit: NASA/Jay Friedlander
The whirling blades on drones flying above Mars might cause tiny electrical currents to stream in the Martian environment, according to a NASA study. These currents, if big enough, might cause the air surrounding the craft to glow. This procedure takes place naturally at much bigger scales on Earth as a corona or electrical glow sometimes seen on airplane and ships in electrical storms called Saint Elmos Fire.
” The faint glow would be most visible during evening hours when the background sky is darker,” said William Farrell of NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, lead author of a paper on this research released in Planetary Science Journal. “NASAs experimental Ingenuity helicopter does not fly throughout this time, however future drones might be cleared for night flight and search for this radiance.”
” The electrical currents generated by the fast-rotating blades on drones are too little to be a risk to the craft or the Martian environment, but they use an opportunity to do some extra science to enhance our understanding of an accumulation of electrical charge called triboelectric charging,” included Farrell.

The radiance, exaggerated for presence, may take place if the drones spinning rotor blades create an electric field that triggers electrical currents to stream in the Martian air around the craft. The whirling blades on drones flying above Mars might trigger small electrical currents to flow in the Martian environment, according to a NASA research study. As the blades affect the grains, charge is moved, constructing up on the blades and developing an electrical field. As charge builds to high levels, the atmosphere begins to conduct electrical power, a procedure known as “climatic breakdown,” producing a population of electrons that form an improved electric current that acts to dissipate or offset the charge accumulation on the rotorcraft.
The charge makes electrons respond to electric fields– brought in to a field produced by positive charge and repelled from a field created by negative charge.

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