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Thickening Haze In Mars Is Now A ‘Planet-Encircling’ Global Dust Storm

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The storm of tiny dust particles in Mars escalates into a global activity that is now encircling most parts of the planet.

The dust levels have more than doubled since the weekend with a tau or haze amount of 8.0 measured at the Gale Crater. This is the highest tau ever recorded in the history of NASA's Curiosity rover.

What Causes Dust Storms On Mars

In the wake of the dust storm, the American space agency's 15-year-old Opportunity rover went to sleep due to the lack of sunlight that powers its solar cells. Curiosity is running on nuclear power, so it is not affected by the dust storm.

The animation of the images taken by Curiosity showed that the sky is getting hazier as the wall that is obstructing sunlight is six to eight times thicker for this season of the year. Scientists at NASA said this phenomenon presents new information as to why some Martian dust storms would last for months and others shorter.

"As the atmosphere warms, winds generated by larger contrasts in surface temperature at different locations mobilize dust particles the size of individual talcum powder grains. Carbon dioxide frozen on the winter polar cap evaporates, thickening the atmosphere and increasing the surface pressure," NASA explained in an official press release.

Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said the current dust storm is bigger than the size of North America and Russia combined.

How Does Curiosity Take Self Portraits

Images of the Martian dust storm stir curiosity on social media. Some Twitter users inquired how Curiosity is able to take selfies shots when there is no other rover present on the Gale Crater.

The answer to the question is the Mars Hand Lens Imager or MAHLI, which functions like a selfie stick. The MAHLI camera is installed on the end of the robotic arm and is able to cover a 360-degree view.

MAHLI is one of Curiosity's three other color cameras, including the Mast Camera and the Mars Descent Imager. What makes MAHLI different than the other cameras is that it can be pointed back to the rover. Images taken by MAHLI are not perfectly angled, and so Curiosity engineers have to stitch it together seamlessly.

"Building the commands to implement the activity is an iterative process where you try and satisfy all the above constraints (some of which can be at odds with each other!). The sheer number of imaging positions makes things interesting," said Joseph Carsten, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and one of the developers of MAHLI.

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