Side-by-side movies shows how dust has enveloped the red planet, courtesy of the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) camera onboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The view from May shows Valles Marineris chasms (left), Meridiani center, an autumn dust storm in Acidalia (top) and the early spring south polar cap (bottom). The view from July shows the same regions, but most of the surface was obscured by the planet-encircling dust cloud and haze.
Over the past month, Mars has put on a spectacular show in our night sky. The show culminates on July 27, 2018, when Earth will pass between Mars and the sun, bringing Mars to opposition on the same night that Mars will be near a totally eclipsed moon! All of that is wonderful for skywatchers, but space scientists are having a field day with Mars now, too. The same event that’s making Mars extra bright for us – that is, Mars’ September 16, 2018, perihelion or closest point to the sun – has also created conditions for a planet-wide dust storm, which has been raging now for over a month.
For scientists watching the red planet from data gathered by NASA’s orbiters, the past month has been a windfall. 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.
Movies - Dust - Planet - Courtesy - Mars
Side-by-side movies shows how dust has enveloped the red planet, courtesy of the Mars Color Imager (MARCI) wide-angle camera onboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.
For NASA’s Opportunity rover, the dust storm has not been good news. NASA said it meant:
Drop - Visibility - Day
… a sudden drop in visibility from a clear, sunny day to that of...
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