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Rolling dust storm clouds on Mars featured in new ESA photo

By
Brooks Hays
The new image shows the edge of a dust storm that rolled across Mars' northern hemisphere this spring. Photo by ESA/DLR/FU Berlin
The new image shows the edge of a dust storm that rolled across Mars' northern hemisphere this spring. Photo by ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

July 20 (UPI) -- This week, the European Space Agency shared a photograph of an ominous front of dust clouds rolling across Mars' northern hemisphere.

Small-scale dust storms continue to crop up across the northern half of the Red Planet, all while a massive dust storm swirls across the southern hemisphere. It's been a busy dust storm season on Mars.

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As a result of the expansive dust clouds, sunlight is hard to come by on the Martian surface. NASA's Opportunity rover has been in hibernation since mid-June. Without sunlight, the rover's solar panels are incapable of powering its batteries.

Scientists still don't totally understand the dynamics behind Martian dust storms, but with each new storm, NASA's and ESA's many Martian spacecraft get another chance to study the planet's atmospheric dynamics.

The newly released image of the dust storm was captured by the high-resolution stereo camera on ESA's Mars Express probe.

The probe's instruments have been essential to the study of Mars' atmosphere over the last several years. This week, scientists released a study based on Mars Express data showing the Red Planet's atmosphere behaves as a single unit.

"The lower and middle levels of Mars' atmosphere appear to be coupled to the upper levels: there's a clear link between them throughout the martian year," Beatriz Sánchez-Cano, a planetary scientist at the University of Leicester, said in a news release. "We found this link by tracking the amount of electrons in the upper atmosphere."

The findings suggest the dust storms north and south of Mars' equator are linked.

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