Thermal Creep on Mars : Visualizing a Soil Layer Under Tension
At low ambient pressure, temperature gradients in porous soil lead to a gas flow called thermal creep. In this regard, Mars is unique as the conditions for thermal creep to occur in natural soil only exist on this planet in the solar system. Known as a Knudsen compressor, thermal creep induces pressure variations. In the case of Mars, there might be a pressure maximum below the very top dust particle layers of the soil, which would support particle lift and might decrease threshold wind velocities necessary to trigger saltation or reduce angles of repose on certain slopes. In laboratory experiments, we applied diffusing wave spectroscopy (DWS) to trace minute motions of grains on the nanometer scale in an illuminated simulated soil. This way, DWS visualizes pressure variations. We observe a minimum of motion, which we attribute to the pressure maximum ∼2 mm below the surface. The motion above but especially below that depth characteristically depends on the ambient pressure with a peak at an ambient pressure of about 3 mbar for our sample. This is consistent with earlier work on the ejection of particle layers and is in agreement with a thermal creep origin. It underlines the supporting nature of thermal creep for particle lift, which might be especially important on Mars.