A gigantic dust storm has changed the surface of Mars

Mars, the Red Planet

In one month, Mars has metamorphosed. Since May 30, a giant dust storm has encompassed the entire planet. So much so that seen from space, it no longer resembles the image we have of it.

It is quite common that gigantic phenomena of this type obscure the Martian atmosphere, but locally. Global storms on the other hand are more rare: they occur every eight years or so. However, for more than a month, Mars has been the scene of a massive storm that has changed the landscape of the planet. This particular weather was even a problem for one of NASA’s rover, the Opportunity rover that runs on solar energy. The gargantuan storm blocks sunlight from reaching the solar panels of the rover thus preventing them from recharging the battery of the rover.

If this whirlwind of dust persist, Opportunity will go dead from being completely discharged by being exposed to the cold. Indeed, for a month and a half, NASA had lost contact with the machine.

However, this storm also has its good side. NASA has taken the opportunity to gather and analyze, using other probes, data on the surface, the atmosphere, the composition and temperature of Mars in hope of understanding how local storms can turn into a global squall.

The storm could even provide clues for researchers to try to unravel the mystery of the abrupt change that occurred to Mars billions of years ago, when its atmosphere was still dense enough to allow liquid water to exist on the surface of the red planet.

For now, the storm should last until September, giving NASA plenty of time to gather data. Meanwhile, the  video below provides a time-lapse of the changes made by the storm. On the left, Mars seen by one of the NASA’s probes in orbit on May 28, two days before the start of the storm. On the right, a similar view, while the storm is raging.

Andrei Santov

Andrei, a sociologist by profession, born in Russia but currently located in UK, covers mostly European and Russia-related news for The Talking Democrat.