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This massive dust storm could sink Mars for months



From Folk Mechanics

Every six to eight years, massive dust storms can envelop the entire surface of Mars. NASA's Mars probes are currently watching one unfold over the red planet. Scientists saw a small dust storm on May 30, and by June 20, had become "global" and devoured the entire planet. For the NASA Opportunity Rover, the visibility dropped from a sunny day to a cloudy one. Because the rover is powered by solar energy, the researchers suspended it to save its batteries. According to NASA, it could take until September to calm the dust, and the opportunity will come back.

Meanwhile, many other Mars orbiter scientists are helping to understand the dust storm. "This is one of the biggest weather events we've seen on Mars" since space observations began in the 1960s, said Michael Smith, a scientist at NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center. Smith and other scientists are trying to understand how small, regional storms swarm to become so big. They also record how the dust storm changes the planet's atmospheric temperatures, which can alter the winds, which in turn can increase the storm by whirling up more dust from the surface of the planet. "The fact that you can start with a local storm no bigger than a small [US] state and then trigger something that stirs up more dust and creates a veil that covers almost the entire planet is remarkable," said Rich Zurek, the project scientist for MRO, who daily charts the storm's development in color images and atmospheric temperatures.

Meanwhile, Mars Curiosity is on mission to acquire rock samples and study the storm from the surface of Mars itself. Another orbiter is investigating the high atmosphere of Mars, 100 kilometers above the surface, where the dust does not arrive. Every time you see Mars in the sky in the coming weeks, NASA advises: "Remember how many data scientists are better at understanding the mysterious weather of the Red Planet."

(via NASA)

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