At the end of May, this year, we learned about a dust storm that was taking place on Mars. Now, based on some recent data taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, we know that the whole planet is engulfed in the dust storm, and it seems that the rovers might be threatened by the storm.
Strongest Martian storm ever
Based on what we know from NASA, these storms take place every six to eight Earth years. The latest storm that was first noticed on 30th of May was small at the beginning, but by 20th of June, it took over the entire planet. According to Tanya Harrison, who is the director of Arizona State University’s NewSpace Initiative, this is the strongest dust storm to have ever been observed on Mars by scientists. Also, it looks like this poses a threat to the Opportunity rover, as she is “not getting enough sunlight to keep her batteries charged”. However, Harrison mentioned that “thermal models tell us temperature is on our side.”
It appears that Opportunity will stay in its hibernation mode until September, when it is believed that the dust will settle. Scientists will then try to wake the rover up. For now, astronomers are worried about Opportunity, as they don’t know if she can get through the cold without any solar power, but they seem to remain optimistic.
A chance to learn more about Martian weather
In the meantime, through some other experiments, the scientists are trying to understand the storm. According to the latest news, NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter is monitoring the Red Planet’s temperature, as well as its atmospheric composition, in order to study it better. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is measuring the temperature and taking colored images of the atmosphere. NASA’s MAVEN orbiter is also investigating the top of the Martian atmosphere, to see in what way it is affected by the storm. All of them have one common goal: to understand how small storms evolve into events that take over the whole planet.