In an update on the conditions prevailing on Mars, NASA has announced that the massive dust storm, which has been raging on the red planet for almost 20 Earth days, has grown bigger than one could possibly imagine. A massive dust storm has engulfed Perserverence Valley, pinning NASA's Opportunity rover in place; all the dust is blocking out sunlight, preventing the bot from recharging its batteries - so much so that ground control fears it might freeze out, as its dwindling power supply can't feed the rover's inbuilt heaters.
While Opportunity fights to survive through the storm, the other rover exploring the planet, Curiosity, is well-suited to such extreme conditions.
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The first Martian dust storm was recorded by French astronomer Honore Flaugergues in 1809.
The dust storm battering Opportunity is now a global storm, NASA reports. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter gave Opportunity's engineers an early warning about the approaching storm and acts like a weather satellite. Guzewich is leading the Curiosity rover's dust storm work. Daily photos captured by its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, show the sky getting hazier.
This animation shows the views from Mars Curiosity's Left PanCam, from May 17 to June 18, 2018 (Curiosity Sols 2054 to 2085). The haze is about six to eight times thicker than what's usual for this time of the Martian year, NASA estimates. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) has a lens that's photographed Mars in incredible detail, giving scientists the ability to see objects as little as 3 feet wide and to study the planet's surface structure. As the atmosphere warms, winds generated by larger contrasts in surface temperature at different locations mobilize dust particles the size of individual talcum powder grains. Carbon dioxide ice (dry ice) embedded in the planet's polar ice caps also evaporates during these months, making the atmosphere extra-thick - this increased pressure helps suspend dust in the air. "The current dust storm is more diffuse and patchy; it's anyone's guess how it will further develop, but it shows no sign of clearing". Dust clouds have been spotted up to 60 kilometers (40 miles) high.
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An artist's conception of a Martian dust storm, which might also crackle with electricity. By contrast, the current storm, if it were happening on Earth, is bigger than North America and Russian Federation combined, says Guzewich. Earth has dust storms, too, in desert regions such as North Africa, the Middle East, and the southwest United States.
While it's not the great solar eclipse of August 2017, night sky watchers are still going to get a treat over the next few weeks as Mars makes its closest, "Close Approach" to Earth since 2003.
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