Dust storm on Mars now covers entire planet

24 June, 2018, 00:48 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • Dust storm on Mars now covers entire planet

For a rover that survives entirely on solar power, a dust storm like this could be a death sentence. Now it is "officially a "planet-encircling" (or "global") dust event", NASA said in a statement. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter gave Opportunity's engineers an early warning about the approaching storm and acts like a weather satellite. The sunlight-blocking haze, called "tau", is now above 8.0 at Gale Crater - the highest tau the mission has ever recorded.

For the past 14 years, Dr. Crumpler has been working with the Opportunity rover, making new discoveries and even naming parts of Mars after New Mexican areas.

A key question for scientists is why some dust storms on Mars become planet-enshrouding events and last months, while others fade away in a week.

Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said the current dust storm is bigger than the size of North America and Russian Federation combined.

However, another rover, the nuclear-powered Curiosity, is on the opposite side of the planet from Opportunity and sending pictures back that reveal the dust storm's darkening effects on Mars. At left is an image from Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam) taken on May 21, 2018, before the storm. The cherry red color is largely due to red dust grains in the atmosphere letting red light through, but not green or blue light.

Images of the Martian dust storm stir curiosity on social media.

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This storm is already the largest on Mars in more than a decade, and Curiosity wasn't present in 2007 to study the last one.

New photos from Curiosity show a wall of haze over Gale Crater that is up to eight times thicker than normal for this time on Mars, NASA officials said. Curiosity's cameras are having a hard time, however, as the lack of light means it has to use long exposure times.

Curiosity should be able to cope with the dust storm better than Opportunity. JPL leads the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity mission.

Carbon dioxide frozen on the winter polar cap evaporates, thickening the atmosphere and increasing the surface pressure. This enhances the process by helping suspend the dust particles in the air. Dust clouds have been spotted up to 60 kilometers (40 miles) high.

Only a week ago, the looming storm covered just one-fourth of Mars. Guzewich said the current storm would cover an area larger than North America and Russian Federation combined.

This storm is also different from the massive storms observed by Mariner 9 (1971-1972) and Mars Global Surveyor (2001). Sometimes the storms are so intense and kick up enough dust that they can be seen by telescopes on Earth. Earth's gravitational pull is nearly double that of Mars, which helps settle the dust. These include the structure of our thicker atmosphere and stronger gravity that helps settle dust.

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