ith globally acknowledged personnel Elon Musk stepping closer and closer to making Mars a habitable planet with his multi-millionaire project “SpaceEx”, the red planet has become a hotter topic from space. Keeping up to date with the happenings on Mars is now more of a mandate than a luxury.
NASA’s contribution for MARS
NASA has sent two rovers, i.e., the Opportunity Rover and the Curiosity Rover. The Opportunity Rover is temporarily out of commission.
An enormous dust storm has hit Mars this June 12. The extent of this storm is nearly unfathomable – about the combined size of North America and Russia. NASA says that the storm now encircles the entire surface of Mars. The dust storm has completely taken over the source of sunlight which is necessary for the Opportunity Rover as it is dependent on solar power. The Curiosity Rover is located about 5,000 miles away from the Opportunity Rover. It is also experiencing the effects of the dust storm.
The extent of the Storm on MARS
The caliginous atmosphere created by the dust storm, measured in Tau, is now at about 8.0 Gale Crater. It is the highest recorded value in the history of Curiosity mission. The Tau at Opportunity’s location is 11 Gale Crater making it really murky. Curiosity, being controlled by a nuclear-powered battery, is in no danger of losing power. Yet, Curiosity has entered low-power mode to accommodate for the natural phenomenon. With the help of latest pictures taken from the Martian landscape, there is a dense haze 6-8 times thicker than the usual.
Are storms in Mars different from the Earth?
“If you have sunlight that reaches the surface and heats it up, it will create instability where warm air rises up. On Mars, there is so much of this loose dust lying on the surface that when you have these upward winds, they take a lot of dust with it.”
-Tanya Harrison (Planetary scientist at Arizona State University)
The dust storms on Mars work similarly as on Earth.
Blustery wind moves the small grains of a few hundred microns in size. These grains bounce up into the air and the turbulence keeps on taking them higher and higher.
The atmosphere on Mars is low in atmospheric pressure. The winds move at the speed of 60 miles per hour.
The dust is so fine and small that it tends to linger in the air. As a result, it takes a really long time to settle.
The key question is: why some dust storms on Mars take such an enshrouding form? To this Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA, says”we don’t have any idea”.
Backup Plan for Mars
NASA’s other spacecraft tracking the storm from the orbit include the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey and MAVEN (Mars Atmospheric and Volatile Evolution Mission). They study the Martian atmosphere too. Besides these, the European Space Agency also has two spacecraft in orbit, Mars Express and the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. India’s Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft is in the orbit as well.