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article imageMartian dust storms making the rules for exploration

By Paul Wallis     Jul 15, 2007 in Science
The huge Martian dust storms blanketing the planet are doing just that; blanketing it. The dust has reflective capacity, and nobody had been too sure what effect that would have on the Mars rovers and orbiting surveyors.
According to Arizona State researchers, the Mars missions have been lucky that the storms happen in the southern Martian summer, otherwise the dust would cool the rovers. In summer they can survive better on reduced energy levels. The storms are also affecting the satellites’ ability to carry out their survey work.
The storms are receiving detailed study. Martian dust storms have been seen before, but this time there are two NASA and one European satellites analyzing the dust and its effects. (They haven’t got much else to study, until the storms end.)
The ability of Martian dust to interfere with exploration and survey missions is now amply confirmed. The problem of the dust will have to be solved before a manned mission can be conducted. Surviving the dust may be one of the main hurdles to a Mars mission.
Atmospherically, the dust can be a liability to power systems and perhaps communications. On the surface, its potential to cause problems is undeniable, if theories of dust lakes and deep deposits of the dust on the surface are correct. Some large craters are literally full of the dust, and its load bearing abilities are suspect. The amount of dust raised by storms also indicates the presence of extremely large amounts of material. It's not too much of an exaggeration to say that there's more dust in the air on Mars than actual air.
The storms indicate that high volumes of dust can be deposited rapidly, and at this stage unpredictably, by storms.
There’s a lot to learn yet.
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