30th of May is the day when a small dust storm was first observed on the Red Planet. By June 20th, the storm intensified and started taking over Mars. At the moment, this massive dust storm has control over the whole planet and according to scientists, it might take months before it goes away. Such an event takes place every six to eight years.
What does this mean for scientists?
In the opinion of Andrew Fazekas, who is an astronomy columnist with National Geographic, this event has a great importance for planetary scientists that study the climate and weather patterns of Mars. He believes that “every day is a learning event for scientists about the dust storms.”
Due to the intensity of the storm, the Opportunity rover, which runs on solar power, has gone into a hibernation state. NASA believes that the rover will not be awaken before September. Also, while the spacecraft has been put to sleep, other means of investigating the storm have been used by NASA. The scientists are trying to understand what exactly causes a small-scale dust storm to turn into such a massive event.
NASA’s means of examining the storm
Fortunately, the Curiosity rover, which is nuclear-powered, was not affected by the lack of sunlight on the Red Planet and is currently examining the particles on the ground. The MAVEN satellite is looking at how the upper atmosphere of Mars is being impacted by the dust storm. Another satellite, the Mars Odyssey, is now testing the atmosphere twice a week, compared to how it was scheduled to do its testing before, which was every 10 days. In addition, The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is documenting the fast expansion of the storm.
Fazekas mentioned that all the data gathered about the events that take place on Mars is extremely important and it will be very helpful when planning a human trip to the Red Planet in the future: “We want to know exactly how a dust storm like this can affect missions.”
Jasmine holds a Master’s in Journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto and writes professionally in a broad variety of genres. She has worked as a senior manager in public relations and communications for major telecommunication companies, and is the former Deputy Director for Media Relations with the Modern Coalition. Jasmine writes primarily in our LGBTTQQIAAP and Science section.