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6. Atmospheric Electricity

2005: IVA-3
2010: 2D
Priority: Medium

Investigation: Assess atmospheric electricity conditions that may affect TAO and human occupation.

Martian dust storm showing electrical charge buildup
An artist's rendition of a Martian dust storm showing electrical charge buildup. (Note: there is no evidence that lightning accompanies storms on Mars.) Image credit: NASA
Atmospheric electricity is a potential hazard for electrical systems both on the surface of Mars and during EDL and TAO. Researching and gathering more measurements and observations would reduce the risks to the crew or mission instrumentation. The main risks would come from overdesigning the mission – making equipment heavier, more intricate, and more expensive than it needs to be. If the hazards are known, scientists and engineers could adequately prepare for them and could potentially avoid unnecessary costs and complications in designing discharging suits, equipment, and instrumentation.

Click on the expandable links below to see the 2005 and 2010 versions of this investigation.

2005 Version of Investigation (old version)

2010 Version of Investigation (current version)

The list of required measurements for this investigation was not changed – the revisions in this section were made to more closely match the formatting of the other investigations. Instrumentation on Phoenix did soil conductivity tests, but did not obtain measurements within the specified range for this investigation. The MER rovers have operated without known electrical effects, but give no indication of the risks during ascent and descent. Additionally, there is debate over the detection of electrical activity on Mars from remote DSN measurements and from the MARSIS instrument on Mars Express. MAVEN could potentially detect atmospheric discharges from orbit, but in-atmosphere measurements would really be essential in assessing risk.

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