Thermal and microstructural properties of fine-grained material at the Viking Lander 1 site

Paton, M.D.; Harri, A.-M.; Savijärvi, H.; Mäkinen, T.; Hagermann, A.; Kemppinen, O. and Johnston, A. (2016). Thermal and microstructural properties of fine-grained material at the Viking Lander 1 site. Icarus, 271 pp. 360–374.



As Viking Lander 1 touched down on Mars one of its footpads fully penetrated a patch of loose fine-grained drift material. The surrounding landing site, as observed by VL-1, was found to exhibit a complex terrain consisting of a crusted surface with an assortment of rocks, large dune-like drifts and smaller patches of drift material. We use a temperature sensor attached to the buried footpad and covered in fine-grained material to determine the thermal properties of drift material at the VL-1 site. The thermal properties are used to investigate the microstructure of the drift material and understand its relevance to surface-atmosphere interactions.
We obtained a thermal inertia value of 103 ± 22 tiu. This value is in the upper range of previous thermal inertia estimates of martian dust as measured from orbit and is significantly lower than the regional thermal inertia of the VL-1 site, of around 283 tiu, obtained from orbit. We estimate a thermal inertia of around 263 ± 29 tiu for the duricrust at the VL-1 site. It was noted the patch of fine-grained regolith around the footpad was about 20–30 K warmer compared to similar material beyond the thermal influence of the lander.

An effective diameter of 8 ± 5 μμm was calculated for the particles in the drift material. This is larger than atmospheric dust and large compared to previous estimates of the drift material particle diameter. We interpret our results as the presence of a range of particle sizes, <8 μμm, in the drift material with the thermal properties being controlled by a small amount of large particles (∼8 μμm) and its cohesion being controlled by a large amount of smaller particles. The bulk of the particles in the drift material are therefore likely comparable in size to that of atmospheric dust. The possibility of larger particles being locked into a fine-grained material has implications for understanding the mobilisation of wind blown materials on Mars.

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