Mars is most likely going to get engulfed in a planet-wide dust storm and this will cause a thick sheet of haze to blanket the entire planet in next few weeks or months.
This forecast comes from a team of researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab using a new technique they have developed to predict such storms on the Red Planet using data from previous such storms. Currently the planet is said to be half-way through the storm and over the course of next few weeks there is a possibility of a planet-wide dust storm taking shape.
Researchers say that their model based on which they have predicted the storm will enable the US space agency and others (possibly) during their manned missions to mars as dust storms could not only hamper landing and takeoffs, but they could also affect working of electronics dependent on solar energy as well as health of humans who may have travelled there.
The scientists point out that the storm on Mars won’t be anything like what has been shown off in sci-fi movies because the forces of wind on the Red Planet are not that strong. However, the storms could reach enough height and distance that it could lessen the amount of sunlight reaching the surface and hence reduce power production through solar panels.
NASA recorded a similar storm just under a decade ago in 2007 and during that time the rovers working on the planets were under threat from power-cuts owing to significant decline in incident sunlight on which these rovers depend for their power needs. Both Spirit and Opportunity that were active halfway around the planet from each other were affected by the storm.
Since 1924 there have been recorded instances of a total of nine such planet-wide storms with the five most recent planetary storms detected in 1977, 1982, 1994, 2001 and 2007.
Discerning a predictable pattern for which Martian years will have planet-encircling or global storms has been a challenge. In an earlier study published in the journal Icarus, researchers reported finding a pattern in the occurrence of global dust storms when he factored in a variable linked to the orbital motion of Mars.
Other planets have an effect on the momentum of Mars as it orbits the solar system’s center of gravity. This effect on momentum varies with a cycle time of about 2.2 years, which is longer than the time it takes Mars to complete each orbit: about 1.9 years. The relationship between these two cycles changes constantly.
According to findings, global dust storms tend to occur when the momentum is increasing during the first part of the dust storm season. None of the global dust storms in the historic record occurred in years when the momentum was decreasing during the first part of the dust storm season. The paper noted that conditions in the current Mars dust-storm season are very similar to those for a number of years when global storms occurred in the past. Observations of the Martian atmosphere over the next few months will test whether the forecast is correct.