NASA spacecraft studying raging dust storm on Mars

Three NASA spacecraft are observing the planet-wide dust storms currently enveloping Mars.
By Tyler MacDonald | Jul 24, 2018
NASA spacecraft are currently studying the raging, planet-wide dust storms that have enveloped the Red Planet, and the agency just put together a before-and-after video using the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) camera onboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) that gives us a look at them.

"For scientists watching the red planet from data gathered by NASA's orbiters, the past month has been a windfall," the agency said. "Global dust storms, where a runaway series of storms creates a dust cloud so large it envelops the planet, only appear every six to eight years (that's three to four Mars years). Scientists still don't understand why or how exactly these storms form and evolve."

The movies show just how much the dust has taken over the planet. And although they're fascinating to watch, the storm isn't good news for NASA

" a sudden drop in visibility from a clear, sunny day to that of an overcast one," the agency said. "Because Opportunity runs on solar energy, scientists had to suspend science activities to preserve the rover's batteries. As of July 18, no response has been received from the rover."

Other NASA spacecraft, both in orbit and on the ground, are also observing the raging storm.

"The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey, and Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) orbiters are all tailoring their observations of the red planet to study this global storm and learn more about Mars' weather patterns," NASA said. "Meanwhile, the Curiosity rover is studying the dust storm from the Martian surface."

But the MAVEN orbiter, which has been circling Mars since 2014, is not studying the dust storm itself.

" the MAVEN team wants to study how the dust storm affects Mars' upper atmosphere, about 62 miles (more than 100 km) above the surface where the dust doesn't even reach," NASA said. "MAVEN's mission is to figure out what happened to Mars' early atmosphere. We know that at some point billions of years ago, liquid water pooled and ran along Mars' surface, which means that its atmosphere must have been thicker and more insulating, similar to Earth's."

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