Picture: NASA image shows a blue dune on Mars

25 Juin, 2018, 20:21 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Credit NASA  JPL-Caltech  Univ. of Arizona

Mars is now under the grip of a massive dust storm that has turned the landscape blood red.

The dust storm has wreaked havoc on Mars, though the Curiosity rover has not been affected, as it relies on plutonium and not sunlight as a fuel source.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has discovered a stunning blue dune, illustrating that Mars is more than just a red planet. However, this is the first time Curiosity has been on Mars to observe such a storm, and scientists are gathering as much information as possible to help future forecasting efforts.

However, the Opportunity rover, which has been on Mars for almost 15 years, has not been so lucky, effectively going into sleep mode during the storm.

Massive storms are quite rare in Mars, but dust storms happen roughly the same time every year during early spring to summer. According to Scott D. Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, if such conditions were to occur on Earth, it would be bigger than North America and Russian Federation combined. For capturing this imagery, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter used its efficient HiRise camera. This device is unprecedented in terms of studying the red planet.

Along with this new comparison photo, NASA released an awesome animated image showing what Curiosity saw as the dust storm approached its current location.

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The two images show the lighting conditions that changed before and during the storm. The camera has to take longer exposures when it takes photos.

However, while Curiosity is nuclear-powered and therefore not dependent on solar energy, NASA's other operational rover on Mars, Opportunity, is powered by Sunlight now blocked by the thickening haze.

Last June 12, NASA engineers tried to communicate with the Opportunity rover but did not receive a response.

Interestingly, this dune has a more complex structure than the others. It takes pictures regularly and sends stunningly colorful images of the surface of Mars to earth.

Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet.

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