That massive Martian dust storm has now swallowed the entire planet

MGN Online

NASA says the two-week-old storm doubled in size over the weekend, and is now officially a "planet encircling" or "global" event.

These two views from NASA's Curiosity rover, acquired specifically to measure the amount of dust inside Gale Crater, show that dust has increased over three days from a major Martian dust storm.

NASA scientists say the storm has them asking how these type of storms last for months at a time, while others last only a week.

For a rover that survives entirely on solar power, a dust storm like this could be a death sentence.

Curiosity's engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have studied the potential for the growing dust storm to affect the rover's instruments, and say it poses little risk.

"We don't have any good idea", Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in the statement.

The artificial satellite Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter discovered the dust storm for the first time on June 1. The last storm of global magnitude which enveloped the Red Planet was in 2007, nearly five years before NASA's Curiosity landed on its surface.

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"A recent analysis of the rover's long-term survivability in Mars' extreme cold suggests Opportunity's electronics and batteries can stay warm enough to function", NASA officials wrote in a separate update Wednesday.

The tau, which is what the haze blocking the sunlight is called, has reached a level of 8 over Gale Crater where Curiosity hangs out.

An artist's conception of a Martian dust storm, which might also crackle with electricity. Curiosity has taken one of its trademark selfies (seen above) to show how the storm limits visibility, and that was on June 15th when the tau was half of what it is now.

Curiosity should be able to cope with the dust storm better than Opportunity. When Curiosity is not taking pictures, the rover rotates its mast-mounted Mastcam camera to face the ground to protect it from blowing dust, they added. This sun-obstructing wall of haze is about six to eight times thicker than normal for this time of season.

Carbon dioxide frozen on the winter polar cap evaporates, thickening the atmosphere and increasing the surface pressure.

But researchers hope data gathered on the current dust storm will help predict similar events in the future. By contrast, the current storm, if it were happening on Earth, is bigger than North America and Russian Federation combined, says Guzewich. The meteorite impact left a crater of Mars' surface and caused a dust avalanche visible by the long black line in the image shared by NASA.

Scientists first detected the dust storm May 30, and they do not know when it will abate. Vegetation also binds the soil, preventing particles from getting airborne, and rain washes whatever gets in the atmosphere back down.

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