Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter monitoring dust storm

Nov 22, 2012 by Guy Webster
This nearly global mosaic of observations made by the Mars Color Imager on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Nov. 18, 2012, shows a dust storm in Mars' southern hemisphere. Small white arrows outline the area where dust from the storm is apparent in the atmosphere. Locations of NASA's Mars rovers Opportunity and Curiosity are labeled. Black areas in the mosaic are the result of data drops or high angle roll maneuvers by the orbiter that limit the camera's view of the planet. Equally-spaced blurry areas that run from south-to-north (bottom-to-top) result from the high off-nadir viewing geometry, a product of the spacecraft's low-orbit. Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, provided and operates the Mars Color Imager. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

(Phys.org)—A Martian dust storm that NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been tracking since last week has also produced atmospheric changes detectable by rovers on Mars.

Using the orbiter's Mars Color Imager, Bruce Cantor of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, began observing the storm on Nov. 10, and subsequently reported it to the team operating NASA's . The storm came no closer than about 837 miles (1,347 kilometers) from Opportunity, resulting in only a slight drop in atmospheric clarity over that rover, which does not have a .

Halfway around the planet from Opportunity, the NASA Mars rover Curiosity's weather station has detected related to the storm. Sensors on the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS), which was provided for Curiosity by Spain, have measured decreased air pressure and a slight rise in overnight low temperature.

"This is now a regional dust storm. It has covered a fairly extensive region with its dust haze, and it is in a part of the planet where some regional storms in the past have grown into global dust hazes," said Rich Zurek, chief Mars scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "For the first time since the Viking missions of the 1970s, we are studying a regional dust storm both from orbit and with a weather station on the surface."

Curiosity's equatorial location and the sensors on REMS, together with the daily global coverage provided by the , provide new advantages compared with what Viking offered with its combination of orbiters and landers. The latest weekly Mars weather report from the orbiter's Mars Color Imager is here.

Each lasts about two Earth years. Regional dust storms expanded and affected vast areas of Mars in 2001 and 2007, but not between those years nor since 2007.

"One thing we want to learn is why do some Martian get to this size and stop growing, while others this size keep growing and go global," Zurek said.

From decades of observing Mars, scientists know there is a seasonal pattern to the largest Martian dust-storm events. The dust-storm season began just a few weeks ago, with the start of southern-hemisphere spring.

Starting on Nov. 16, the Mars Climate Sounder instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter detected a warming of the atmosphere at about 16 miles (25 kilometers) above the storm. Since then, the atmosphere in the region has warmed by about 45 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius). This is due to the dust absorbing sunlight at that height, so it indicates the dust is being lofted well above the surface and the winds are starting to create a dust haze over a broad region.

Warmer temperatures are seen not only in the dustier atmosphere in the south, but also in a hot spot near northern polar latitudes due to changes in the atmospheric circulation. Similar changes affect the pressure measured by Curiosity even though the dust haze is still far away.

Besides the research value in better understanding storm behavior, monitoring the storm is also important for rover operations. If the storm were to go global, the Opportunity rover would be affected most. More dust in the air or falling onto its solar panels would reduce the solar-powered rover's energy supply for daily operations. Curiosity is powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, rather than solar cells. The main effects of increased dust in the air at its site would be haze in images and increased air temperature.

Explore further: Two Galileo satellites lose their way

Related Stories

Are dust devils whirling around the Curiosity rover?

Nov 19, 2012

In this latest update from the MSL team, Ashwin Vasavada, the Deputy Project Scientist, explains how Curiosity has been monitoring the winds and radiation levels in Gale Crater. Curiosity has also been looking ...

Free Spirit Testing Nearing Completion

Jul 31, 2009

Mars rover engineers at JPL are winding down testing of different escape maneuvers using a test rover in a sand box filled with soil to mimic the Martian surface. It is possible that in early August the first ...

Scientists monitor developing Mars dust storm

Apr 20, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists at Arizona State University's Mars Space Flight Facility are using the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter to monitor a new dust storm that has ...

Mars Rover Team Sets Low-Power Plan for NASA's Spirit

Nov 17, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- After assessing data received from NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit on Thursday, mission controllers laid out plans for the rover to conserve its modest energy during the next few weeks.

Recommended for you

Two Galileo satellites lose their way

2 hours ago

Two European Galileo satellites launched as part of a navigation system designed to rival GPS have failed to locate their intended orbit, launch firm Arianespace said Saturday.

SpaceX rocket explodes during test flight

11 hours ago

A SpaceX rocket exploded in midair during a test flight, though no one was injured, as the company seeks to develop a spacecraft that can return to Earth and be used again.

Amazing raw Cassini images from this week

Aug 22, 2014

When Saturn is at its closest to Earth, it's three-quarters of a billion miles away—or more than a billion kilometers! That makes these raw images from the ringed planet all the more remarkable.

Europe launches two navigation satellites

Aug 22, 2014

Two satellites for Europe's rival to GPS were lifted into space on Friday to boost the Galileo constellation to six orbiters of a final 30, the European Space Agency (ESA) said.

SpaceX gets 10-year tax exemption for Texas site

Aug 22, 2014

Cameron County commissioners have agreed to waive 10 years of county taxes as part of an agreement bringing the world's first commercial site for orbital rocket launches to the southernmost tip of Texas.

User comments : 0