Snapped by ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft, one of the images were taken yesterday, July 2, from an altitude of about 4,300 kilometers (2,700 miles) above the surface. They echo views seen by NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor back in 2001.
Dust storms on Mars are the result of rising dust as the ground is heated. The dust is so small and light that it lifts into the atmosphere, and in some instances like this, the storms can cover the entire planet like we’re seeing right now. Scientists aren’t quite sure why this happens.
The images from Mars Express were particularly cool though because one of them showed Olympus Mons – the biggest mountain in the Solar System at 26 kilometers (16 miles) – emerging from the storm. Neat!
The various images taken by Mars Express are pretty incredible. Normally, we can see craters, valleys, and more on the surface of the Red Planet. Now all we can see is a blank planet, looking somewhat like Saturn’s moon Titan. The poles of the planet also seem to be visible at the moment.
This dust storm was first spotted on Mars in late May, and it’s now the biggest dust storm we’ve ever seen on the Red Planet. While it’s rather fascinating to look at, not everyone is enjoying it.
That’s because on the surface right now, NASA’s Opportunity rover is fighting for its life. The rover relies on solar power, and with day turned to night by the dust, it has had to put itself to sleep as it waits out the storm. All its handlers on Earth can do is wait and see if it wakes up after the storm abates.
When might that be? Well, we don’t know at the moment. By some estimates, the storm could continue for weeks or even more. The rover is expected to survive, despite being unable to keep itself warm, as temperatures aren’t expected to drop low enough to cause severe problems.
But still, there are nervy times ahead. And these pictures from ESA show that the storm ain’t going anywhere yet.