Mars is currently experiencing a planet-wide dust storm. Seasonal dust storms happen every Martian year, but global dust storms like the current one happen about every 10 or so.
As in the movie The Martian where a dust storm plays an astronaut through the actor Matt Damon, the current dust storm on Mars, causes serious problems for real missions – such as the Opportunity Rover, the science operation had to stop. The fine, powdery stuff can invade expensive instruments and opaque solar panels needed to power devices.
Where does all the dust come from? A new study indicates that most of the dust covering most of the Martian surface comes from a single thousand kilometer long geological formation near the planet's equator. The study published on 20 July 2018 in the journal Nature Communications found a chemical agreement between dust in the Martian atmosphere and the surface feature, the so-called Medusae Fossae Formation.
Side-by-side movies show how dust has enveloped the red planet, thanks to the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) , The view from May shows the precipices of Valles Marineris (left), the Meridiani Center, an autumn jam in Acidalia (above) and the South African Pole Cap (below). The view from July shows the same regions, but most of the surface was obscured by the dust cloud and the nebula of the planet.
Co-author of the study co-author Kevin Lewis is Assistant Professor of Earth and Planetary Research at Johns University Hopkins University. Lewis said in a statement:
Mars would not be nearly as dusty unless this huge deposit had gradually eroded over time and was essentially polluting the planet.
The team studied data from the Mars Odyssey Spacecraft, which has been orbiting the planet since 2001. They also looked at the chemical composition of the Martian dust. Lander and Rover far apart on the planet have all reported surprisingly similar data on the dust. Ojha said:
Dust is enriched with sulfur and chlorine all over the planet and has a very pronounced sulfur-to-chlorine ratio.
The researchers were able to identify the region of the Medusa-Fossae Formation as rich in sulfur and chlorine, as well as agree with the ratio of sulfur to chlorine in Mars dust.
Here on earth, dust from soft rock formations is separated by natural forces such as wind, water, glaciers, volcanoes and meteor impacts. But on Mars, researchers say for more than 4 billion years, these forces have made only a small contribution to the global dust reservoir of the planet. Study leader Lujendra Ojha said:
How is Mars doing so much dust because none of these processes are active on Mars?
Earlier findings indicate that the Medusa Fossae Formation was of volcanic origin. Once the size of the semi-continental United States, the wind has eroded it, leaving behind an area that is now more like about 20 percent. Yet it is the largest known volcanic occurrence in our solar system.
By calculating how much of the Medusae Fossae Formation has been lost in the past 3 billion years, scientists have been able to approximate the current amount of dust on Mars, enough to form a global layer of 7 to 40 feet (2 up to 12 meters) thickness.
Bottom Line: A new study says that the dust that covers much of the surface of Mars is mostly from a single 1,000-kilometer (600-mile-long) geological formation near the planet's equator, Medusae Fossae Called formation.
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