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Are There Storms on Mars?



Earth experiences some wild weather. We have hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, blizzards, and a range of other crazy phenomena. Much of this is due to our atmosphere and weather systems. Mars has a very thin atmosphere, so what kind of weather does it experience? Are there any storms? Let’s find out.



1. Observation in 1809 gave us a hint.
The first recorded observation of a Martian dust storm was in 1809. Honore Flaugergues observed through his telescope that there were what he called “yellow clouds” on the surface. Since these yellow clouds seemed to come and go inconsistently, he concluded that they were storms. Some say his telescope was too small to pick up these features, so we don’t know for sure if he was taking credit for someone else.



2. One of our rovers experienced firsthand.
Opportunity was a rover that landed on Mars in 2004 and worked all the way until 2018. It could have kept going for years (it was only set to work for 90 days) if not for the type of storm that characterizes the Martian surface: a gigantic dust storm. In June of 2018, a dust storm began to kick up. It eventually grew into a global dust storm and was the size of North American and Russia combined. Opportunity ran on solar power, and with all the dust blocking sunlight, it’s assumed that the panels were covered. There was hope that the dust would clear off as it had before, but as of 2019 NASA officially declared the rover dead after communications failed hundreds of times.

3. How big can they get?
Mars generally experiences two types of dust storms. One lasts a few weeks and can grow to about the size of a continent. The other happens once every three Mars years and is known as a global dust storm because it can cover the entirety of the planet. At the very least, we know how to predict and prepare for this intense storms.
 
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rod

Oct 22, 2019
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Earth experiences some wild weather. We have hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, blizzards, and a range of other crazy phenomena. Much of this is due to our atmosphere and weather systems. Mars has a very thin atmosphere, so what kind of weather does it experience? Are there any storms? Let’s find out.



1. Observation in 1809 gave us a hint.
The first recorded observation of a Martian dust storm was in 1809. Honore Flaugergues observed through his telescope that there were what he called “yellow clouds” on the surface. Since these yellow clouds seemed to come and go inconsistently, he concluded that they were storms. Some say his telescope was too small to pick up these features, so we don’t know for sure if he was taking credit for someone else.



2. One of our rovers experienced firsthand.
Opportunity was a rover that landed on Mars in 2004 and worked all the way until 2018. It could have kept going for years (it was only set to work for 90 days) if not for the type of storm that characterizes the Martian surface: a gigantic dust storm. In June of 2018, a dust storm began to kick up. It eventually grew into a global dust storm and was the size of North American and Russia combined. Opportunity ran on solar power, and with all the dust blocking sunlight, it’s assumed that the panels were covered. There was hope that the dust would clear off as it had before, but as of 2019 NASA officially declared the rover dead after communications failed hundreds of times.

3. How big can they get?
Mars generally experiences two types of dust storms. One lasts a few weeks and can grow to about the size of a continent. The other happens once every three Mars years and is known as a global dust storm because it can cover the entirety of the planet. At the very least, we know how to predict and prepare for this intense storms.
Point #2, I experienced first hand in June-August 2018. Mars at opposition on 26-July-2018 and I viewed the planet many times before, during, and after opposition using my 90-mm refractor and 10-inch Newtonian. Power ranged 31x to 216x views. Mars was indeed yellow covered or as others at Sky & Telescope posted, pumpkin type color. Mars reached some 24.3" angular size so very good for telescopes but the dust storm obscured quite a bit of surface features. One rover had nuclear power and continued on, the other with solar - died :) I logged my observations in home database along with details on the NASA rovers on the surface and what happened. My own bit of astronomical history to remember.
 

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