In October 2016, the Schiaparelli capsule, also known as the Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM), is scheduled to make the first landing on Mars by an ESA spacecraft. Will it be greeted by a raging dust storm? What impacts could such a storm have on the historic mission?
Fine dust is found everywhere on Mars. Even the sky appears orange because of suspended dust particles. Although the air is very thin – only about 1% as dense as Earth’s atmosphere at sea level – strong winds are capable of picking up the smaller particles and lifting them many kilometres above the surface. They can also cause larger sand grains to bounce along the surface, dislodging other grains and, in time, contributing to the erosion of surfaces with which they come into contact.
There are countless localised dust storms during a Martian year. Most of these are associated with low-pressure systems or occur near the edges of the polar ice caps, where cold air meets warmer air over ice-free ground. Innumerable localised whirlwinds, known as dust devils, also pick up loose material as they sweep across the surface. [More at link]