The Martian dust storm season, expected to begin this summer and last till early 2019, could be the biggest type of such phenomenon in the environment of Mars, and could explain how the Red Planet became dry. The dust storm this year is expected to be so grand that it will darken the skies around the entire Red Planet and can also adversely affect the ongoing missions, NASA said in a report.
Such storms play a role in the ongoing process of gas escaping from the top of Mars’ atmosphere, which long ago transformed wetter, warmer ancient Mars into the present arid, frozen planet, revealed a study based on observations by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) during the 2007 Martian global dust storm. The study showed that rising air during the 2007 global dust storm led to over a hundred-fold increase in water vapour in Mar’s middle atmosphere.
“We found there’s an increase in water vapour in the middle atmosphere in connection with dust storms,” said lead author Nicholas Heavens from the Hampton University in Virginia. “Water vapour is carried up with the same air mass rising with the dust,” Heavens added in a paper published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
Earlier observations by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter had detected a link between the presence of water vapour in Mars’ middle atmosphere – roughly 30 to 60 miles (50 to 100 km) high – and escape of hydrogen from the top of the atmosphere. However, it was discovered mainly in years without the dramatic changes produced in a global dust storm.
“It would be great to have a global dust storm we could observe with all the assets now at Mars, and that could happen this year,” said David Kass of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. However, the global dust storm can also pose a hindrance to the ongoing missions to the Red Planet, the report said.
Opportunity, a solar powered rover, would have to hunker down to save energy, the upcoming InSight lander’s parameters would need to be adjusted for safe entry, descent and landing in November, and all the cameras on rovers and orbiters would need to deal with low visibility. Previous global dust storms took place in 1977, 1982, 1994, 2001 and 2007.