MARS IS ENGULFED IN A GLOBAL DUST STORM
Next time you find yourself complaining about the weather, take comfort in the fact that you are not living on Mars. NASA’s Curiosity rover has taken a snap of a thickening dust storm as it gathers on the surface of the Red Planet.
The storm has been gathering momentum for weeks and is now officially a ‘planet encircling’ event, researchers say. It has grown so thick that the Opportunity rover, which runs on solar power, is no longer able to operate. As Curiosity is powered by a nuclear battery, it has not been affected.
The last storm of global magnitude that enveloped Mars occurred in 2007, five years before Curiosity landed there.
Curiosity, along with a fleet of spacecraft orbiting Mars, will allow scientists to collect a wealth of information about the dust both from the surface and from space for the first time, the researchers say.
Martian dust storms are relatively common, especially in the planet’s southern hemisphere during spring and summer, when the planet is closest to the Sun. As the atmosphere warms, winds generated by large differences in surface temperatures at different locations stir fine dust particles into the air. Furthermore, carbon dioxide released from melting polar caps is released. This thickens the atmosphere and helps to suspend the dust particles in the air.
Dust storms also occur on Earth in desert regions such as North Africa, the Middle East and the southwestern United States, but factors such as stronger gravity and the effects of plants binding soil together prevent them from spreading globally.
The Curiosity rover snapped this picture of the Red Planet’s heavy dust storm in June this year