NASA’s rover last year observed a massive dust storm on Mars, bringing the Opportunity probe’s mission to an end,media reported. Although scientists already know this, these large-scale dust storms are relatively rare, occurring every decade or so. Last year’s Dust storm on Mars provided NASA scientists with the opportunity to study the weather, revealing the formation of the giant dust spike sits NASA called the “dust tower.”
In short, the Dust Tower is a bit like a tornado on Earth. NASA describes them as huge churning clouds, covered with dust that rises to higher heights than the normal dust around them. These dense “dust towers” can form on Mars under normal environmental conditions, but are more common when large-scale dust storms occur.
Unlike tornadoes, these “dust towers” are indeed huge – on the ground, NASA says they are about the same size as Rhode Island, eventually climbing to an altitude of about 50 miles. The top of the Dust Tower may be as large as Nevada, producing a layer of dust about 35 miles above the surface of the planet that is wider than the continental United States.
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is able to monitor these dust storms, which is why the space agency learned of something unusual happened during last year’s Storm on Mars. According to NASA, the Dust Tower usually takes about a day to disappear. However, during last year’s storm, the “dust tower” continued to form, and some of the “dust towers” lasted for more than three weeks.
Scientists say last year’s dust activity was surprising, especially since the potential of these “dust towers” ultimately resembled “elevators” that absorb material from Mars’ thin atmosphere. The process could also draw small amounts of water vapor into the atmosphere, which could help explain how Mars lost all its lakes and rivers.