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What's life on Mars like? This Boise State professor has an idea

Posted: 3:37 PM, Sep 25, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-25 19:16:27-04
What's life on Mars like? This Boise State professor has an idea

BOISE — Brian Jackson teaches physics at Boise State, but his main area of research is on Mars, more specifically, the tornado-like structures called dust devils.

“Dust devils occur all over the place on Mars, they’re much more common on Mars than the Earth," said Jackson.

They’re much slower than tornadoes, typically moving 10-20 miles per hours, but they do occur here on Earth. Just four hours outside Boise, Brian and his students are studying the dust devils that form at the Alvord Desert in southeastern Oregon with drones. The drones measure how much dust lifts into the air.

“As you can imagine, we cant very easily get to mars to do these kinds of studies," said Jackson.

On Earth, dust devils can affect regional air quality, but they create larger-scale effects on Mars.

“On Mars, dust devils play an important role in the climate, they inject dust into the atmosphere, and the martian atmosphere is really dusty for that reason,” said Jackson.

Beyond studying dust devils for climate purpose, the dust poses another a challenge on Mars; it can affect missions sent from the Earth for other research.

“Many of the missions that land on the surface of Mars are powered by solar panels and dust is constantly falling out of the atmosphere onto these solar panels and obscuring them," said Jackson.

Brian, his colleagues, and students continue to work on the project, hopefully gaining more answers about Earth and Mars’s atmospheres.

“They operate more or less the same as on Earth as on Mars, so if we understand how dust devils work on the earth, which we don’t understand very well, then we may be able to use that understanding to understand how they affect climate on Mars," said Jackson.

In 2017 his class received a grant from NASA to help fund their research. Brian also hosts events for all the public related to his astronomy research on the first Friday of every month.