Major Dust Storm Could Hit Mars Soon

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A raging Martian dust storm is expected to sweep across the Red Planet within the next few months, according to a study that found a way to predict these otherwise variable weather events.

Global dust storms on Mars threaten robotic rovers traversing the Martian surface, as well as astronauts that may one day set up camp on the Red Planet. However, based on past weather patterns, Martian dust storms may soon become more predictable — and if history repeats itself, the next storm is just around the corner, according to a statement from NASA.

“Mars will reach the midpoint of its current dust storm season on October 29th of this year,” James Shirley, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in the statement. “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.”

Local dust storms are fairly frequent on Mars. However, these localized storms can grow into regional or, in some cases, global storms. The dust storm season typically reaches its peak during the spring and summer in the planet’s southern hemisphere, when Mars is closest to the sun, NASA officials said in the statement.

Dust storms on Mars create a massive haze that blankets the planet. The last global dust storm on Mars was in 2007. During this storm, NASA Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity received scarce solar power, but were able to survive.

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SOURCE: Space.com, Samantha Mathewson