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Stormy Weather

View a larger image (180 kB) or learn about other sol 19 images.

Things were looking up for atmospheric scientists today. The dark storm clouds seen to the east in this color panorama did not end up threatening the FIDO rover, although nervous scientists continue to watch the weather. Fortunately, thunderstorms will not be a problem in Mars' thin, dry atmosphere. "It's been a while…millions of years, in fact… since flash floods have hit the canyons of Mars," says Texas A&M's atmospheric scientist Mark Lemmon.

Mark Lemmon

Mark Lemmon

The storms did bring high winds to the area of the FIDO desert test site. The lighter clouds just above the ridge are clouds of dust raised by high winds. On Mars, atmospheric scientists will focus much of their attention in studying the way dust gets raised into the atmosphere, what it is like while in the atmosphere, and how it falls back to the surface. It is unknown how Mars' great dust storms start, or what keeps some dust in the thin martian atmosphere at all times. Gusts of wind raise the dust into the sky. In addition, great swirling martian dust devils have been seen from orbit and by Mars Pathfinder. FIDO scientists have not gotten pictures of more down-to-Earth dust devils at this site yet. "We're still looking, since we know dust devils are common in deserts like this one," says Geoffrey Landis from NASA's Glenn Research Center.

Geoffrey Landis

An understanding of martian dust will help scientists and engineers better design future missions to Mars. As a solar cell scientist, Geoffrey Landis studies how the dust settles on solar panels to predict how long rovers can operate. Dust accumulates on the solar panels of rovers, blocking light and energy, causing the rover to lose power over the course of the mission.

Dust will deposit on solar cells, and it will deposit on everything else, too. If the fine, butterscotch-colored dust accumulates on future astronauts' spacesuits, it could cause problems when they come inside from working outdoors. "You don't want to breathe in all that dust," says Geoffrey. Working on advanced concepts for future Mars missions, Geoffrey has thought extensively about how to combat the problems of dust. Geoffrey has also written a science fiction novel, Mars Crossing, all about a future mission to Mars. "In the story, everything goes wrong -- something that we prefer not to experience in our real rover mission!"

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Last Updated: 18 August 2002

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