Researchers believe that a new dust storm could hit Mars in the coming months. They fear that it could be powerful enough to endanger the current robotic rovers found on the planet. Looking to the future, it may even pose a serious danger to the first astronauts venturing to the Red Planet in hopes of establishing a colony.
Until recently, the weather events on Mars were entirely unpredictable to scientists. However, a new study that analyzed Mars’ previous weather patterns and dust storms may lead the way to accurately predict when storms will happen. This in turn will help space agencies and even future astronauts to better prepare for them.
According to James Shirley, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory:
Mars will reach the midpoint of its current dust storm season on October 29th of this year. Based on the historical pattern we found, we believe it is very likely that a global dust storm will begin within a few weeks or months of this date.
Mars experiences frequent local dust storms. Depending on the conditions, they can grow into regional or even global storms. The highest frequency of dust storms is when the planet is closest to the Sun. More specifically, during the spring and summer of the southern hemisphere.
The last global dust storm was in 2007. It covered the surface of the planet as a blanket which can block sunlight. This leads to a difficult situation for Mars rovers who depend on solar energy to function. During that year, the Spirit and Opportunity rovers were able to survive by using as little power as possible.
Besides the 2007 global storm, the study also analyzed major storm from 1976, 1977, 1982, 1994, and 2001. Using data from these weather events, scientists have managed to observe a certain pattern in their occurrence. Dust storms are influenced by how other planets impact the momentum of Mars. The full results of the study were published in the journal Icarus.
Based on the results of the study, scientists currently observed that Mars features similar conditions to those before a previous global dust storm. However, no storm has yet to develop on the global scale. For this reason, scientists are expecting one to happen in the following months.
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