The Insight Mission has operated on the surface of Mars for nearly two Earth years, returning hundreds of sols worth of data, including the first detections of Marsquakes. The lander also deployed an exquisitely sensitive meteorological instrument package to assess the influence of the atmosphere on the geophysical measurements, as well as imaging cameras to monitor both instrument deployment and local surface activity. In addition to their relevance to geoscience, these latter instruments have detected a variety of boundary layer phenomena, including an unprecedented number of encounters with small-scale vortices. These vortices register as short-lived (tens of seconds), negative (< 2% ambient) pressure excursions in the barometric time-series collected by Insight. These vortices closely resemble dust devils, which are widespread on Mars and shape climate and air quality. Puzzlingly, although Spiga et al. (2020) reported that Insight detected more than 9,000 such vortices and collected hundreds of mid-day images, no active dust devils were imaged — apparently, a large fraction of the vortices were dustless. In spite of the lack of dust devil detections, we can leverage the vortex detections and Insight’s wind speed measurements to learn about the boundary layer processes that create dust devils. In this presentation, we will discuss our own analysis of Insight’s meteorological data to assess the statistics of vortex and dust devil activity. Comparing these results to Insight’s imagery and space-based observations of the Insight landing site, we can also statistically infer the maximum dust-loading allowed for nearby dust devils.
Spiga, A. et al. (2020). eprint arXiv:2005.01134.