The high resolution stereo camera on board ESA’s Mars Express captured this impressive upwelling front of dust clouds – visible in the right half of the frame – near the north polar ice cap of Mars in April this year.
It was one of several local small-scale dust storms that have been observed in recent months at the Red Planet, which is currently enduring a particularly intense dust storm season. A much larger storm emerged further southwest at the end of May and developed into a global, planet-encircling dust storm within several weeks.
The intensity of this major event means very little light from the Sun reaches the martian surface, a situation extreme enough that NASA’s 15-year old Opportunity rover has been unable to recharge its batteries and call home: it has been in hibernation mode since mid-June.
Dust storms on Mars occur regularly during the southern summer season when the planet is closer to the Sun along its elliptical orbit. The enhanced solar illumination causes stronger temperature contrasts, with the resulting air movements more readily lifting dust particles from the surface – some of which measure up to about 0.01 mm in size… [More at link]