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Study Predicts Next Global Dust Storm on Mars

Global dust storms on Mars could soon become more predictable -- which would be a boon for future astronauts there -- if the next one follows a pattern suggested by those in the past.
A published prediction, based on this pattern, points to Mars experiencing a global dust storm in the next few months. "Mars will reach the midpoint of its current dust storm season on October 29th of this year. Based on the historical pattern we found, we believe it is very likely that a global dust storm will begin within a few weeks or months of this date," James Shirley, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

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NASA Spacecraft Detects Aurora and Mysterious Dust Cloud around Mars

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has observed two unexpected phenomena in the Martian atmosphere: an unexplained high-altitude dust cloud and aurora that reaches deep into the Martian atmosphere.
The presence of the dust at orbital altitudes from about 150 kilometers to 300 kilometers above the surface was not predicted. Although the source and composition of the dust are unknown, there is no hazard to MAVEN and other spacecraft orbiting Mars.
 
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Spacecraft Monitoring Martian Dust Storm

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 Colour 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 Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. The storm came no closer than about 1,347 kilometres from Opportunity, resulting in only a slight drop in atmospheric clarity over that rover, which does not have a weather station.

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Sand grains stirred up by the winds of Mars are tossed higher and farther than those kicked up by winds on Earth, a new study finds. The results could help explain how dunes migrate across the Martian surface as well as what whips up dust storms that blow across the red planet.
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Mars has an ethereal, tenuous atmosphere with less than one-percent the surface pressure of Earth, which challenges scientists to explain complex, wind-sculpted landforms seen with unprecedented detail in images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
One of the main questions has been if winds on present-day Mars are strong enough to form and change geological features, or if wind-constructed formations were made in the past, perhaps when winds speeds and atmospheric pressures were higher.
The eye-opening new views of wind-driven Mars geology come from the University of Arizona's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera (HiRISE). As the orbiter flies at about 3,400 meters per second (7,500 mph) between 250 and 315 kilometres  above the Martian surface, this camera can see features as small as half a meter.

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This summer, Mars suffered a titanic dust storm that engulfed the entire planet. The dust storm contributed to a temporary warming effect around Mars, which raised the temperature of the atmosphere by around 20-30°C.
However, the surface temperature of the planet itself dropped.
Imagine a dust cloud on Earth that started in the Sahara desert and grew to encompass our whole planet. Such a catastrophe would block sunlight from reaching the surface and plunge us into twilight for months. It happens on Mars on a regular basis. Planetary scientists watched the latest dust storm take shape at the end of June. By mid July it had covered the Red Planet, dispersing gradually over the next few months.

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The mighty Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity continue to persevere in brutal conditions, as revealed in images of the sun they are sending home. The images show how opaque the Martian atmosphere has been in the face of a raging, two-month dust storm.
To understand the gravity of the storm, engineers and astronomers monitor the situation by examining the images of the sun and measuring the amount of dust or the opacity of the atmosphere.

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Mars rover scientists have launched a new long-term study on the Martian atmosphere with the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer, an instrument that was originally developed at the University of Chicago.
Thanasis Economou, Senior Scientist at Chicago's Enrico Fermi Institute, suggested the new study after observing that the APXS instruments aboard NASA's twin Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, had recorded fluctuations in the argon composition of the Martian atmosphere.

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"The amount of argon in the atmosphere is changing constantly".

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Martian Skies Brighten Slightly
Mars Exploration Rover Status Report: Situation Improves; Spirit Resumes Using Robotic Arm

Slight clearing of still-dusty Martian skies has improved the energy situation for both Spirit and Opportunity, allowing controllers to increase the rovers' science observations. Spirit is even being commanded to move its arm for the first time in nearly three weeks. It will position the arm's microscopic imager to take a series of photographs of two soil targets and one rock target. Opportunity's planned science observations are for studies of the atmosphere.
Energy production from solar arrays increased to 295 watt hours on Spirit's 1,276th Martian day, or sol, which ended early Aug. 6, and to 243 watt hours on Opportunity's sol 1,255 which ended midday Aug. 5. The solar panels generate electricity from sunlight. Dust storms obscuring the sun have cut daily output as low as 261 watt hours on Spirit and 128 watt hours on Opportunity in recent weeks, compared with levels above 700 watt hours per sol before the current series of Martian dust storms began in June. One hundred watt hours is what it takes to run a 100-watt bulb for one hour.
The increased output from the solar panels, though slight, has allowed Opportunity to fully charge its batteries and Spirit to bring its batteries to nearly full charge. Also, the temperature of the core electronics module on Opportunity, which was of concern when it fell to minus  37 Celsius last week, has increased to minus 33.4 degrees Celsius.

"Conditions are still dangerous for both rovers and could get worse before things get better.  We will continue our cautious approach to the weather and configure the rovers to maintain a high state of charge on the batteries. Communication sessions with both rovers will remain limited until the skies clear further" -  John Callas, rover project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, US.

Source NASA

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A major 3-week-old dust storm on Mars has paralysed NASA twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity and it doesn't appear the storm will end anytime soon.

"This is by far the worst storm the rovers have ever seen" - John Callas, project manager for the rovers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Caņada Flintridge.

The rovers, which rely on solar energy, must remain inactive when dust blocks out the sun.

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