Published: Sun, June 24, 2018
Research | By Raquel Erickson

NASA's Curiosity rover captures photos of Mars dust storm

NASA's Curiosity rover captures photos of Mars dust storm

The giant dust storm on Mars that has prevented NASA's exploration rover Opportunity from conducting scientific work last week is now officially a global dust event, the US space agency said Thursday. Located halfway around the planet, where the storm is not as risky as it is in the area where Opportunity conducts its research, the Curiosity rover took a selfie on Friday during the storm. Curiosity was far away from the dust storm when it began, but now it's fully engulfed as the storm expands to cover most of Mars.

Scientists at NASA said this phenomenon presents new information as to why some Martian dust storms would last for months and others shorter.

As of Wednesday, June 20, NASA atmospheric scientist Scott D. Guzewich says the space agency doesn't "have any good idea" to any of the above questions. Because Curiosity isn't affected by the storm, this is the first time NASA has been able to monitor conditions on the ground during a global event.

"The last storm of global magnitude that enveloped Mars was in 2007", NASA said.

But NASA's other Martian rover, Curiosity, is nuclear powered and is mostly unaffected by the dust storm. "The sunlight-blocking haze, called 'tau, ' is now above 8.0 at Gale Crater - the highest tau the mission has ever recorded".

The dust storm is comparable in scale to a similar storm observed by Viking I in 1977, but not as big as the 2007 storm that Opportunity previously weathered. Curiosity has taken one of its trademark selfies (seen above) to show how the storm limits visibility, and that was on June 15th when the tau was half of what it is now. As for the 2018 version, NASA has faith on Curiosity to comprehend more about these storms. The haze is about six to eight times thicker than what's usual for this time of the Martian year, NASA estimates. The engineers at NASA have said the vehicle's instruments are not at risk, but its cameras might require more exposure time due to low lighting and dust blowing toward its optics.

In the image below, two photos taken with Curiosity's Mastcam reveal the robot's recent drilling site, a slab of Martian sedimentary rock dubbed "Duluth", as reported by the Inquisitr. As the atmosphere warms, winds generated at different locations mobilize dust particles the size of talcum powder grains, according to NASA. Carbon dioxide ice (dry ice) embedded in the planet's polar ice caps also evaporates during these months, making the atmosphere extra-thick - this increased pressure helps suspend dust in the air. "In some cases, the dust clouds reach up to 40 miles (60 kilometers) or more in elevation". Guzewich said the current storm would cover an area larger than North America and Russian Federation combined. The other two orbiters can measure the amount of dust and study how the upper atmosphere behaves. Earth has dust storms, too, in desert regions such as North Africa, the Middle East, and the southwest United States.

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