The weather on Earth can sometimes be extreme and downright awe-inspiring, but Mars probably hit us. The annual storm season on Mars does not include torrential rains, but the dust storms can completely encircle the planet. The current storm season of Mars led to one of these monster storms, but all begin as small dust waves in the thin Martian atmosphere. The European Space Agency (ESA) has just released a picture from the beginning of this year showing the early stages of a meteoric storm.
Mars has a thin atmosphere, mainly composed of carbon dioxide. The planet has seasons, no different than the earth, which expose the ice caps to more solar energy. As a result, the atmosphere becomes thicker and better able to absorb Martian subtleties. This is exactly what happens on the above picture, which is the beginning of a big dust storm near the northern polar region of the planet.
The picture is from the ESA Mars Express orbiter, which has been observing Mars for almost 15 years. The probe was so successful that it is easy to forget the loss of the Beagle 2 lander from the same mission. Scientists used the spacecraft's high-resolution stereo camera (HRSC) to capture this image of the wavefront in the Utopia Planitia region in April 2018.
This storm has intensified in the storm season for Mars and every other year would be considered quite large. A few weeks later, the current superstorm began in the Arabia Terra region in the southwest. This storm is currently covering the entire planet, which could be a disaster for the brave little opportunity rover. NASA says Opportunity slipped into failsafe mode a few weeks ago when the light level fell and the robot could no longer recharge its batteries.
Images like those taken by Mars Express could help scientists understand the midsummer weather. The feedback loop that causes these huge dust storms every few years is still poorly understood. Some, like the Utopia Planitia Storm, dissipate after they reach the size of a small US state. Others, such as the Arabia Terra Storm, expand until they cover the entire surface. If humanity someday wants to establish a permanent presence on Mars, it is crucial to know how to forecast and mitigate meteorological storms.