European planetologists tracked the birth and disappearance of eight new dust storms at the north pole of Mars. Their photographs will help scientists understand why the planet once every three years is completely covered by such vortices.
On Mars, unlike Earth, the main driving force of all climatic processes and soil erosion are not rains, seas and rivers, but winds, air currents and dust storms. The first high-quality images of Mars, received by NASA in 1997 after the arrival of the Mars Global Surveyor probe, showed that such storms occur on the red planet incredibly often, and that they can pose a great threat to future travelers and colonists.
A vivid example of this was the dust storm that covered the entire surface of Mars last summer and cut short the career of the Opportunity rover, who had studied the secrets of the fourth world of the Solar System for 15 years. Scientists have long been interested in how such storms arise, whether it is possible to predict the course of their development and how to protect oneself from them.
As a rule, dust vortices of a planetary scale arise not on their own, but as a result of a gradual growth in the size of relatively modest in scale storms that periodically appear at the poles of Mars during spring and summer. At this time, the planet as close as possible to the Sun and receives large amounts of heat.
The Mars-Express probe has been following the birth of “germs” of such storms since its arrival in the red planet orbit in December 2003. Over the past 15 years, he has collected a lot of interesting and valuable information about their properties and behavior and continues to conduct similar observations today.
The new “season of storms”, as the scientists note, began on Mars in late May, when several relatively small twists of dust appeared at its north pole. In the following weeks, the instruments of the probe recorded the birth of at least eight such structures, each of which existed for only a few days.
The birth of these storms led to a curious effect – when they came together with clusters of Martian clouds, the latter almost instantly disappeared. This was due to the fact that dust storms on Mars produce huge amounts of heat, which is quickly evaporated by the smallest ice crystals that make up the clouds of the red planet.