As Mars nears its’ perihelion in January of 2013, or closest point to the sun in its’ orbit, NASA scientists have been monitoring a massive dust storm in the southern hemisphere of the planet. Since November 10, NASA has been tracking the dust storm and watching it grow in size, which is very typical for the planet when it is approaches and is near perihelion. NASA then said on Wednesday that it appears the dust storm may now be dissipating.
Mars is also known to have the largest dust storms in our solar system, which can rage on for months and even cover the entire planet in a shroud of Martian dust.
Rich Zurek, chief Mars scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California said, “This is now a regional dust storm. It has covered a fairly extensive region with its dust haze, and it is in a part of the planet where some regional storms in the past have grown into global dust hazes. For the first time since the Viking missions of the 1970s, we are studying a regional dust storm both from orbit and with a weather station on the surface.”
“During the past week, the regional storm weakened and contracted significantly,” said Bruce Cantor of Malin Space Science Systems, a NASA contractor that operates space camera systems, including the Mars Color Imager.
The aforementioned weather station is on the Mars rover Curiosity, which has detected changes in pressure and overnight low temperatures since the dust storm was first noticed. NASA is also tracking the dust storm with the Opportunity rover, but were previously concerned that the dust could fall on the vehicle’s solar panels, which are used for power. Curiosity on the other hand is powered by plutonium and should not be affected.
In other news, there is big word out of NASA that a major announcement may be coming soon regarding some soil samples that were recently analyzed by Curiosity. Some rumors claim that there has been a groundbreaking discovery, but NASA wants to confirm it before releasing any further information. That announcement is likely to come at the AGU Meeting in San Francisco, to be held from December 3-7.
Stay tuned for further updates on this developing story.
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