In a new research, scientists have attributed the clinginess of Martian dust to electrons jumping back and forth between dust grains as they collide in the wind.
The research became necessary as many probes sent to the Red Planet, like the Mars rover Spirit, get stuck in Martian soil.
So, according to a report in New Scientist, it’s timely that researchers are getting a handle on why dust that collects on the vehicle’s solar panels sticks so stubbornly.
This was noticed more than a decade ago when surprisingly large amounts stuck to the wheels of NASA’s Sojourner rover. Static electricity was thought to be to blame, but no one could explain how the particles became charged.
Now, a team led by Keith Forward of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, has an answer.
The team suspected that electrons could jump back and forth between dust grains as they collide in the wind.
Smaller grains would be more likely to retain their extra electrons, giving them a negative charge, while larger grains would be left positively charged.
The research team managed to electrically charge grains of Hawaiian volcanic ash, chosen for its similarity to Martian dust, by blowing them around in a container.
According to William Farrell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, this may help to combat the dust, which is important if people travel to Mars in the future.
“If the dust is toxic and you bring it inside (a human habitat), it could be extraordinarily bad,” he said.