Cool Photo Of The Martian Ice Cap Shows ‘Thick Dust Clouds’ Approaching Ahead Of Giant Storm

ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

Before the massive dust storm hit Mars in late May and later engulfed the entire planet in just a matter of weeks, as previously reported by the Inquisitr, the Mars Express spacecraft managed to snag a stunning photo of its first dust clouds creeping toward the Martian ice cap.

Captured in April, the spectacular image was unveiled by the European Space Agency (ESA) on July 19 and reveals “thick dust clouds” making their way over the Red Planet’s surface near the north polar ice cap.

“The high-resolution stereo camera on board ESA’s Mars Express captured this impressive upwelling front of dust clouds — visible in the right half of the frame — near the north polar ice cap of Mars in April this year,” space agency officials detailed in the photo release.

This approaching dust storm was just one in a series of similar events that took over the Red Planet in recent months, as Mars is now in the midst of a full-blown dust storm season.

In order for space enthusiasts to see what these dust clouds look like up close and personal, ESA also released a 3D version of the Mars Express photo, which the space agency recommends that you view using red-green or red-blue glasses.

The most recent footage from the high-resolution stereo camera on board the Mars Express is available on ESA‘s Flickr account, so you should definitely give it a look and catch the latest images beamed back from Mars’ orbit.

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Launched on June 2, 2003, the Mars Express orbiter is the first-ever European spacecraft to make an interplanetary voyage, the Inquisitr reported in May, when ESA released a video depicting the probe’s flight over Neukum Crater on Mars.

The mission’s name was inspired by the fact that “it was built more quickly than any other comparable planetary mission,” ESA explained.

The Mar Express spacecraft began its science operations in Mars’ orbit in 2004 and was originally accompanied by the Beagle 2 lander, which managed to touch down near the Martian equator on December 25, 2003.

However, the lander went silent immediately after descending on Mars and remained lost for 12 years, until it was spotted in some images snapped by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), Space.com reported a while back.

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Meanwhile, the monster dust storm on Mars is being constantly monitored by five ESA and NASA orbiters — including the MRO, which recently captured a fascinating photo of the planet-circling storm, the Inquisitr reported yesterday.

The Mars Curiosity Rover is also keeping watch on the dust storm and is merrily carrying on with its science operations — well, maybe not so merrily, considering its latest chagrin, as reported by the Inquisitr this week.

While Curiosity is braving the storm thanks to its nuclear-powered battery, its solar-powered sibling — the Opportunity Rover — is sleeping. The massive dust clouds that cover the Martian sky are starving the robot of its precious sunlight, rendering it inoperable, the Inquisitr reported in early July.

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“Martian dust storms are very impressive, both visually, like in this image, and in terms of the intensity and duration,” ESA detailed in the photo description.

Frequent during the southern summer season, when Mars draws closer to the sun on its elliptical orbit, these powerful storms are accompanied by increased solar brightness, which drives up the temperature contrast in the planet’s atmosphere and affects air movement. As a result, dust particles are more easily lifted from the Martian surface, explained the space agency.

However, it appears that the Martian dust storms don’t hold a candle to the hurricanes here on Earth and actually have less than half the wind speed of our cyclones back home.

That’s because the Red Planet has a much lower atmospheric pressure, ESA pointed out, meaning that even high-speed winds wouldn’t pose a threat to anyone caught in the storm.

“You would probably feel a breeze, but it wouldn’t be knocking you over,” Michael Smith, from NASA’ Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, told Space.com.