Focus-Science and Technology - - DISCOVERIES -

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

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