Dust Storms Observed On Mars

Dust storms on Mars - artist impression

An artist’s impression on Mars dust storms.

Scientists have gathered almost 20 years of data and set up a pattern for the dust storms that occur on Mars.

For this analysis, NASA measured the temperature of Mars’ atmosphere trying to discover patterns and seasonality. The temperatures were recorded for six Martial years. One year on Mars is equivalent to 687 days on Earth.

The atmosphere on Mars contains mostly carbon, some water vapors, and even small traces of argon and nitrogen. Also, it’s 100 times denser than the atmosphere on Earth. Beneath its surface, Mars also has calcium and iron carbonates.

Mars has similar tilts to Earth, which means that it also has Earth-like seasons. However, because a year on Mars is longer than one on our planet, the seasons there are longer too. Another difference is that the Red Planet has an elliptical orbit, which makes the seasons to be unequal between the two hemispheres. Therefore, the northern hemisphere has long springs and summers, while the southern hemisphere has longer autumns and winters.

Overall, the temperature on Mars goes from -284° F to 86° F, with the maximum limit reaching a bit above the water freezing point.

Scientists have long known that Mars has weather patterns, tsunamis, and frozen dunes.

However, while analyzing the temperature profiles, researchers discovered three types of dust storms that would usually occur during spring and summer.

“Recognizing a pattern in the occurrence of regional dust storms is a step toward understanding the fundamental atmospheric properties controlling them,” said David Kass from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

On Mars, the modifications in the dust behavior are determined by temperature. The dust particles absorb more sun heat than clear air, which makes them move differently.

The data came from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, who orbited the Red Planet for more than ten years, and the Mars Global Surveyor, which ended its mission in 2006. The scientists combined information gathered by the two missions and created a coherent set of data which later they used to extract temperature patterns.

Mars storms have a surface of 1,200 miles and can last for a couple of days. Other storms can expand to up to a third of the surface of the planet, and they can prolong for weeks.

It seems that storms can start in the north as small disturbances in the cold Martian dust. Then, as the storms move downwards to the southern hemisphere, the dust starts to warm up, and the solar energy makes the winds stronger. As the winds blow, more dust is lifted from the surface and the storms gains more surface and more altitude.

Scientists even observed a few storms that covered the southern hemisphere completely. However, full planetary storms took place just twice in the last two decades. One such unusual storm happened in 1997 when the dust turbulence took up the whole surface of the planet.

Image Source: Wikipedia