Mars is experiencing an estimated 15.8-million–square-mile dust storm, roughly the size of North and South America. This storm may not be good news for the NASA solar-powered Opportunity rover, but one Penn State professor sees this as a chance to learn more about Martian weather.
Steven Greybush, an assistant professor of meteorology and atmospheric science and Penn State Institute for CyberScience faculty co-hire, studies numerical weather prediction and the weather and climate of Mars.
“We are seeing the impact of this storm on Opportunity because it has caused it to shut down,” Greybush said. “Opportunity is in the heart of the storm.”
Beginning on June 13, NASA was unable to contact Opportunity and it is believed that lack of sunlight has caused it to suspend operations to save energy. Opportunity, which originally launched on July 7, 2003, as a part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover program, was designed to search for and characterize rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars. These studies may give researchers key information about the possibility of life on the planet.
Outside of the concern for the rover, Greybush said that the observations of these storms provide researchers with a wealth of data about weather, allowing them to more accurately model the atmospheric conditions along with getting closer to the possibility of being able to forecast the weather on Mars
Knowledge of Mars’ weather will also help with planning future NASA missions, said Greybush.
“If we can learn more about the atmospheric conditions of Mars, we may be able to land in more interesting places, such as those with hills and craters rather than flat terrain,” Greybush said…. [More at link]