The Planetary Aeolian Laboratory is a unique facility used for conducting experiments and simulations of aeolian processes (windblown particles) under different planetary atmospheric environments, including Earth, Mars, and Venus.
Aeolian processes play a critical role in the surface evolution of planets which have dynamic atmospheres and solid surfaces. Research on aeolian processes is carried out through a consortium of NASA and University investigators and associated students. The program is supported through the Office of Planetary Geology, Code EL, National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Current research includes Martian aeolian processes, boundary layer flow field analyses of the Mars Exploration Rovers, and experimental investigation of Martian dust devils (dust devil threshold wind speeds and dust fluxes) using the Arizona State University Vortex Generator in Earth-ambient and Martian-analog pressures.
Located in Building N-242 at NASA-Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA, the facility consists of the tower test-chamber and the control room/office. Contained within the facility are:
- Mars Surface Wind Tunnel (MARSWIT): an open-circuit 1.3 m by 1.3 m by 13 m long atmospheric boundary-layer wind tunnel capable of simulating aeolian processes under both martian and terrestrial conditions.
- Venus Wind Tunnel: a closed-circuit, 6m by 3m atmospheric boundary-layer wind tunnel capable of simulating particle movement under venusian surface conditions.
For the past twenty years research has been conducted on various aspects of planetary aeolian processes, including assessment of wind speeds needed to initiate the movement of particles on Mars and Venus, rates of wind erosion, and analysis of various "bedforms" such as ripples and wind streaks. The results have been used to interpret spacecraft data returned for the surface of both Mars and Venus. Although the primary focus of this research is on extraterrestrial processes, the results also have application to understanding aeolian processes on Earth, including problems of desertification.
The NASA-Ames research consortium studies aeolian processes using a comparative planetary approach and has an international reputation in both the planetary and terrestrial science communities.
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