The massive dust storm that has been raging on the surface of Mars for about two weeks has now officially taken over the whole planet, NASA announced in a news release.
“The Martian dust storm has grown in size and is now officially a ‘planet-encircling’ (or ‘global’) dust event,” officials from the space agency stated on June 20.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, nearly a week ago the epic dust storm was covering a quarter of the planet, stretching over an area the size of North America.
NASA has two rovers on Mars — the Opportunity rover and the Curiosity rover — and they’re both feeling the effects of the dust storm on opposite sides of the Red Planet, albeit not at the same intensity.
The most affected is the Opportunity rover, which went silent around June 10, the Inquisitr reported last week.
Meanwhile, Opportunity’s younger sibling, the Mars Curiosity Rover, is still active and keeping watch over on the horizon, staring the monster dust storm right in the face.
“Though Curiosity is on the other side of Mars from Opportunity, dust has steadily increased over it, more than doubling over the weekend,” NASA noted in the news release.
New Curiosity Photos Capture The ‘Martian Haze’
According to the space agency, the amount of sunlight-blocking haze in the Martian atmosphere, known as “tau,” has now exceeded the 8.0 value over the Gale Crater, where the Curiosity rover is conducting its scientific research — and snapping the occasional selfie in the process, the Inquisitr reported a few days ago.
The 8.0 tau is the highest value that Curiosity has ever picked up in the area, the rover’s science team wrote on Twitter.
“Martian haze, all around. The dust storm now circles the whole planet. The measure of atmospheric opacity, or ‘tau,’ is over 8.0 here in Gale Crater — the highest I’ve ever seen. Still safe. Science continues,” tweeted the Curiosity rover on June 20.
At the same time, the rover beamed back new photos of the dust storm on Mars, unveiling that the “thickening haze” is steadily increasing over the Gale Crater.
In the image below, two photos taken with Curiosity’s Mastcam reveal the robot’s recent drilling site, a slab of Martian sedimentary rock dubbed “Duluth,” as reported by the Inquisitr.
The two images were taken roughly a month apart, on May 21 (left) and June 17 (right), showing the atmospheric changes triggered by the Mars dust storm as it started to descend on Gale Crater.
Meanwhile, On The Other Side Of The Red Planet…
The monster storm is churning up high dust clouds, which NASA points out can reach 40 miles or more in elevation, effectively blocking out the sun and turning day into night.
If you think this is bad, the Opportunity rover has got it worse. The last tau measurements in its current location indicated values of close to 11, NASA said in the news release.
While the lack of sunlight doesn’t keep the Curiosity rover from functioning, since the robot runs on a nuclear-powered battery, the Opportunity rover is powered by solar panels and is no longer receiving energy, which led to its recent shutdown.
CNN notes that the veteran rover has been trekking the Red Planet for almost 15 years and is currently riding out the storm in Perseverance Valley inside Endeavor Crater — an ancient fluid-carved channel on the inner slope of the crater’s rim, notes Astrobiology Magazine.
Biggest Martian Dust Storm Since 2007
NASA is monitoring the growing dust storm on Mars with three orbiters circling the Red Planet: the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which first spotted the dust storm on May 30 and later notified the Curiosity team when the storm started gathering pace on June 7, the 2001 Mars Odyssey, and MAVEN.
As CNN points out, both the orbiters and the Curiosity rover are offering NASA a unique observational point, from which scientist can study this massive storm and understand more about the weather on Mars.
“This is the ideal storm for Mars science,” Jim Watzin, director of the agency’s Mars Exploration Program, said in a previous NASA news release.
“We have a historic number of spacecraft operating at the Red Planet. Each offers a unique look at how dust storms form and behave — knowledge that will be essential for future robotic and human missions.”
The last time NASA had the chance to observe such a massive dust storm on Mars was in 2007, five years before the time of the Curiosity rover, when a similar global event took the Opportunity rover out of commission for several days, reports Space.com.
“Each observation of these large storms brings us closer to being able to model these events — and maybe, someday, being able to forecast them,” said Rich Zurek, chief scientist for the Mars Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
“That would be like forecasting El Niño events on Earth, or the severity of upcoming hurricane seasons,” he pointed out.