NASA Images Reveal Dust Storm Pattern On Mars

Posted: Jun 12 2016, 10:09am CDT | by , Updated: Jun 12 2016, 9:40pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


NASA Images Reveal Dust Storm Pattern on Mars
Illustration represents Mars' atmospheric temperature data taken during a regional dust storm

Temperature records from NASA Mars orbiters reveal that seasonal dust storms occur in a sequence at about the same times each year.

Mars is infamous for its massive dust storms. The atmosphere of Mars is thinner than that of Earth. Still, it can create wind that is powerful enough to pick up tiny particles of dust on the Martian surface and turn them into dust storms.

The dust storms on Mars sometimes become so intense that they can even be seen from the telescopes on Earth. 

NASA’s Mars orbiters are studying the Red Planet’s atmosphere for almost a decade and are attempting to figure out a pattern of planet’s dust storms. Temperature records for six recent Martian years reveals that it is not a random process. It appears that three types of large seasonal dust storms on Mars occur in a sequence at about the same time each year. The storms typically happen during summer in Mars’s southern hemisphere.

“When we look at the temperature structure instead of the visible dust, we finally see some regularity in the large dust storms,” said David Kass of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

“Recognizing a pattern in the occurrence of regional dust storms is a step toward understanding the fundamental atmospheric properties controlling them.”

The observations indicate that atmospheric temperature is directly affecting the dust lofted by Martian winds. Dusty air absorbs sunlight which makes it more hot than the clear air and brings consequential difference in the intensity of storm. Temperature also helps determine how much area the storm will cover.

Most of Martian storms cover a small region about 1,200 miles across and disappears within few days. But some encircle almost one-third of the planet and last weeks to months. The strongest winds can whip at speeds up to 60 miles per hour.

Scientists have been tracking dust storm on Mars for many decades using both telescopes on Earth and spacecrafts orbiting around the planet and the latest findings will help them further understand the categories of dust storms as well as how such seasonal events affect Martian atmosphere. 

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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