A global dust storm might sweep across the planet Mars within this month or the next few months. This threatens the NASA’s rovers, Opportunity and Curiosity.
The most recent Martian dust storm, which occurred in 2007, did exactly that.
“The global dust storm in 2007 was the first major threat to the rovers [Spirit and Opportunity] since landing,” John Callas, project manager for Spirit and Opportunity, said in a statement. “We had to take special measures to enable their survival for several weeks with little sunlight to keep them powered. Each rover powered up only a few minutes each day, enough to warm them up, then shut down to the next day without even communicating with Earth.”
So, with both NASA and SpaceX planning to send manned missions to Mars in the coming years and decades, finding a way to predict these dust storms would be a massive boon.
According to a team of researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, this might just be possible now. A prediction recently published in the journal Icarus suggests Mars may experience a global dust storm in the next few months, beginning sometime around Oct. 29 this year — if the storm follows the pattern laid out by the previous ones.
“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 JPL, said in the statement.
Jean G. Thomas