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Researchers from the University of Amsterdam (UvA), Utrecht University (UU) and Delft University of Technology (TUD) conducted a series of successful flights above the North Sea on Monday in an effort to study avalanches on Mars.

Sebastiaan de Vet in the cabin

Researchers from the University of Amsterdam (UvA), Utrecht University (UU) and Delft University of Technology (TUD) conducted a series of successful flights above the North Sea on Monday in an effort to study avalanches on Mars. As the sun set, they carried out 33 aerial dives near the coast of North and South Holland in order to simulate gravity on the planet Mars and conduct avalanche experiments.

The flight was initiated by Sebastiaan de Vet, Master of Earth Sciences student at the UvA. De Vet is enthused by the positive outcome. ‘We managed to carry out 33 dives, which is far higher than any previous Dutch record'.

De Vet took the initiative to carry out the flight as a part of his final project. When asked to clarify the results, de Vet explains: ‘We have been observing some extraordinary avalanches, but we're not sure why they're taking place under Mars gravity conditions.'

The airborne research was conducted using a number of on-board hourglasses and rotating tins filled with various materials. The researchers used a video camera to register exactly how the materials accumulated inside the tins. The insights gained through these avalanche experiments are valuable to those studying the planet Mars, while also offering a range of terrestrial applications. The study can help us gain a better understanding of similar rock avalanches in terrestrial deltas and rocky mountainous regions. Such avalanches can inundate roads and even entire villages, or break through reservoir dams. The researchers hope the tests will help them gain a better understanding of avalanche formation, friction and speed.

The flight was conducted as part of a collaboration between three Dutch universities. Researchers from the UvA and UU mainly provided the expertise needed to conduct the avalanche experiments, while TUD researchers played an important part in helping to ensure the precision of the aerial dives.

The researchers will spend the coming months processing the results, in preparation for a follow-up flight in early 2010. The flights were funded through the User Support Programme Space Research, implemented by the Netherlands Space Office (NSO) on behalf of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research.