Mars Dust Storm Ideal For Scientific Study

first_img As Storm Hector’s 70 mph winds leave a trail of destruction across Scotland, NASA’s Opportunity rover was forced to suspend operations during “one of the thickest dust storms ever observed on Mars.”Unlike many Brits, though, agency engineers are rejoicing over the celestial squall.“This is the ideal storm for Mars science,” according to Jim Watzin, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program in Washington.The agency has three orbiters circling the globe, each equipped with special cameras and atmospheric instruments.“We have a historic number of spacecraft operating at the Red Planet,” Watzin said in a statement. “Each offers a unique look at how dust storms form and behave—knowledge that will be essential for future robotic and human missions.”This set of images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shows a fierce, giant dust storm kicking up on Mars (via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)Martian dust storms are commonplace. They can quickly balloon into regional storms, and sometimes expand to engulf the entire planet. These full-scale events are estimated to occur about once every three to four Mars years (six to eight Earth years), and can last up to weeks or even months. The most recently recorded storm was in 2007.The one currently swirling above Opportunity now blankets 14 million square miles of the Martian surface—about a quarter of the planet, as reported by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).Scary as that sounds, this is a perfect chance for scientists to study the physics of these storms, which is critical to understanding the planet’s ancient and modern climate“Each observation of these large storms brings us closer to being able to model these events—and maybe, someday, being able to forecast them,” Rich Zurek, chief scientist for the Mars Program Office at JPL in California, said. “That would be like forecasting El Niño events on Earth, or the severity of upcoming hurricane seasons.”Among NASA’s eyes in the sky is the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which acts as an early warning system for situations like this. It was the capsule’s wide-angle camera, called the Mars Color Imager, that provided the Opportunity team a heads up about the coming storm.The 2001 Mars Odyssey and MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) orbiters, meanwhile, provide additional-yet-unique views for the folks back home.Keep an eye on NASA’s Mars Exploration Program website for more updated about the Martian dust storm.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey. Stay on target NASA Captures ‘Red-Handed’ Avalanche on Mars in Mesmerizing PhotoBest Skywatching Events in September 2019 last_img

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