Nothing on Mars

In the summer of 2018 Mars’ surface is swept by a planet-encircling, red dust storm. Dust storms on Mars is a seasonal phenomenon. Storms begin every M-year (or two Earth years) when Mars’ slightly elliptical orbit brings it in relatively close proximity to the Sun. Once every three M-years on average the storms grow and become global which has happened in June 2018 (NASA 2018). That summer, there was a particular concern for NASA’s rover Opportunity which ran on batteries powered by solar panels. The crew at NASA had not heard form it since June 10 or sol 5111 – that is 5111 Martian days after Opportunity first landed at Mars and awoke on February 4 2004 to the sounds of Duran Duran’s “Please tell me now” (ibid.). By late July, while the storm peaked, the fine-grained dust continued to block the sunlight and the Martian surface temperature fell, threatening the survival of Opportunity’s batteries (ibid). Due to the smaller size, and hence gravity, of Mars and a seasonal evaporation of CO2 from the Martian South Pole, dust specks rise up to 60 km into the thin Martian atmosphere where they float and settle so much slower than they would have on Earth (Universe Today 2018). In late August, though the storm had long ago worn off the atmosphere was still full of dust. Throughout the autumn NASA’s crew continued to attempt communication with Opportunity as the dust slowly settled. By late November 2018 after almost six month with no communication, it was presumed that Opportunity had ceased to function (NASA 2018). This is Mars: A fantastic rock-scape cast in dusty red, with the plummaging chasms 6 km into the ground, long extinct volcanoes the largest of which rises an unbelievable 26 km off the face of the globe, craters of enormous dimensions 9 km from crates bottom to crate rim in Hellas Basin 120 km across. Sand dunes, dried up rivers beds, and rock. Everywhere rock. And dust. Polar ice caps of frozen CO2 and sullied water ice. Bar a few of NASA’s rovers still rummaging the surface in pursuit of the microbial life scientists increasingly expect to find, this is what’s here.

Image: NASA

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