Tagged: Mars

Colossal dust storm on Mars is turning everything blood red, and it’s incredibly freaky

Mars is known as the “Red Planet,” but it’s even more crimson as of late. The massive dust storm that has fully enveloped the planet is obscuring the Sun and bathing the landscape in a deep shade of blood red.

NASA’s two rovers, Curiosity and Opportunity, have had to deal with the dust storm in their own specific ways. Opportunity shut down due to lack of power and we still don’t know what kind of shape it’s going to be in when the skies finally clear, and while Curiosity’s nuclear power source allows it to continue to work even in the dark, it’s dealing with some serious visibility issues due to the debris in the air.

A newly released photo from the Curiosity rover shows just how dramatic the change in light has become. Just check out these two side-by-side shots of the exact same rock. The photo on the left was taken on May 21st and the one on the right was snapped on June 17th:

“Two images from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA’s Curiosity rover depicting the change in the color of light illuminating the Martian surface since a dust storm engulfed Gale Crater,” NASA explains of the photos. “The cherry red color is due to red dust grains in the atmosphere letting red light through to the surface, but not green or blue, and to different exposure times for the two images.”

Along with this new comparison photo, NASA released an awesome animated image showing what Curiosity saw as the dust storm approached its current location. The sky growing orange and the distant mountains fading from view is definitely spooky.

It’s hard to overstate the size of the current weather event currently happening on Mars. The storm is gigantic, and it’s like nothing Earth has ever produced.

“Though they are common, Martian dust storms typically stay contained to a local area,” NASA writes. “By contrast, the current storm, if it were happening on Earth, would cover the area of North America and Russia combined.”

We’ll have to wait and see how long it lasts, but in the meantime the Martian surface will be bathed in darkness and, it seems, a crimson hue.

That massive Martian dust storm has now swallowed the entire planet

The colossal dust storm on Mars that has already enveloped the Curiosity rover is now a planet-wide event. In a new bulletin, NASA explains that the dust storm has finally managed to make it around the entire planet, producing a haze in the atmosphere that obscures sunlight and offers scientists a great opportunity to study how weather on Mars works.

The Opportunity rover, which is powered by solar panels and a rechargeable battery, has been in a low-power standby mode ever since the dust storm blocked out enough sunlight to prevent the rover from functioning normally. NASA’s other rover, Curiosity, is working just fine, however. Unlike Opportunity, Curiosity is nuclear powered and doesn’t require sunlight to function. That’s why it’s been snapping selfies while Opportunity sleeps.

This isn’t the first large dust storm to be observed on Mars. A similar event occurred back in 2007, obscuring almost the entire planet aside from the peak of some Martian mountains. However, this is the first time Curiosity has been on Mars to observe such a storm, and scientists are gathering as much information as possible to help future forecasting efforts.

The storm’s intensity — how much dust and debris is in the air — it’s uniform across the planet, and some areas are darker than others. As NASA previously stated, the skies above Opportunity are essentially night, while Curiosity still has a bit of light with which to navigate and look around.

Dust storms on Mars have been notoriously hard to predict, both in their development and their longevity. Some storms die out quickly while others drag on for months, and researchers are hopeful that the new data being gathered currently will offer hints. Still, NASA has little idea of exactly when the current storm will eventually calm, and for the time being it just has to deal with the lack of light and fine debris.

We’ll still have to wait and see what condition Opportunity is in when it finally wakes back up, and whether the skies above Curiosity eventually reach the same levels of darkness that its fellow rover has experienced. In the meantime, NASA will continue to gather information on the storm and hopefully learn a thing or two.

This new high-speed rover simulator uses actual Mars terrain scans

Humans are definitely (probably) going to visit Mars some day. When that day finally comes, whatever hardware we decide to bring to the Red Planet to help us get around will be driven with the utmost care by responsible explorers. A new PC game called Red Rover lets you experience what it might be like if the first Mars settlers didn’t have to worry about things like, you know, surviving.

It’s a lighthearted driving game that puts you in an incredibly powerful rover — certainly nothing like NASA would actually want to send to the Red Planet any time soon — and lets you cruise around to your heart’s content. The twist? It uses actual Mars terrain scans from the HiRISE Mars orbiter to create the most realistic Mars driving simulation ever.

“Red Rover takes satellite and terrain data from NASA’s HiRISE Mars orbiter and incorporates it into a driving simulator,” developer Alan Chan writes. “Red Rover started as a personal research project a few years ago – because I wanted to explore Mars. I’m now making this available on Steam so that like-minded explorers can get to explore Mars as well!”


It’s a pretty neat little time-killer, but as Chan is quick to note in the game’s description on Steam, there’s “no missions to do, no highscores to beat,” and driving around each of the simulated areas is really all there is to do. That’s not to say the game is boring, as each of the large terrain sections that have been imported into the game offer a good bit of variety, but don’t expect this $5 title to last you a dozen hours or anything.

It’s not a 1:1 representation of the entire planet — NASA doesn’t have HiRISE data on the entire planet anyway — but the nine different areas that are included will take you a while to explore. The game is quite pretty, and you can play it in either regular monitor mode or with a VR headset. For $5, it’s as close as you’re going to get to driving around on Mars, and it’s scientifically accurate(ish) to boot!

Supposed ‘alien ship’ crashed on Mars has a much more mundane explanation

An incredibly bizarre feature on Mars which conspiracy theorists believe is clear evidence of alien life is actually just a really, really weird rock formation, according to a new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research. Ancient volcanos that were once active on the surface of the Red Planet, combined with hundreds of millions of years of wind erosion, are responsible for the strange shapes.

From above, the strange formation looks vaguely like something that might have landed, or crashed, on the Martian surface. When it was first discovered in the 1960s, it was strange enough for scientists to admit that they didn’t really know what it was. Now we have a much more detailed explanation, and unfortunately it doesn’t include E.T.

The strange shapes poking out of the dusty surface of Mars are called the Medusae Fossae Formation (MFF for short). Blurry photos snapped by NASA’s Mariner spacecraft many decades ago left much to the imagination, and it was hard to tell exactly what the features truly were.

Now, with updated images and gravity readings from above the MFF, researchers have been able to determine that the rock that created the formation is volcanic in nature. They believe the porous rock was deposited roughly three billion years ago, and Martian winds have continued to carve it into odd shapes over time.

Obviously, scientists never really bought the proposed explanation that the shapes were actually a derelict alien ship, but in order to actually dismiss that notion they needed a much more detailed look at the area. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter provided the tools necessary to paint a much clearer picture of the landscape, revealing the absence of aliens. Bummer.

Former astronaut doubts that NASA or SpaceX will make it to Mars with their shiny new rockets

It’s widely known that the next frontier for manned space flight is Mars. It’s our closest planetary neighbor that actually makes sense to visit, and we know more about the makeup of Mars than we do about any other planet. Scientists think a Mars settlement is entirely possible at some point in the future, and we even think we might be able to farm there. However, we need to actually get there first, and at least one former astronaut doesn’t see that happening any time soon.

Chris Hadfield, who flew to the International Space Station as part of the Canadian Space Agency, told Business Insider that making it to Mars is going to take technology that has yet to be conceived. Put simply, he doesn’t believe the new rockets being worked on by NASA, SpaceX, or Blue Origin have much chance of fulfilling their stated goals.

“Personally, I don’t think any of those three rockets is taking people to Mars,” Hadfield said regarding the SpaceX Big Falcon Rocket, Blue Origin’s New Glenn, and NASA’s Space Launch System being constructed by Boeing. “I don’t think those are a practical way to send people to Mars because they’re dangerous and it takes too long.”

“My guess is we will never go to Mars with the engines that exist on any of those three rockets unless we truly have to,” Hadfield added.

Hadfield believes that, while the rockets might have the power needed to actually make it to Mars — that’s a simple matter of math, and all three should have plenty of oomph in that regard — packing human astronauts into a metal tube for the long, dangerous journey just won’t happen.

None of this is any surprise to the scientists and engineers working on the rockets, of course. Traveling in space is incredibly dangerous, as it always has been, and venturing to a new world for the very first time will carry monumental risks. SpaceX boss Elon Musk has been very public about the dangers that go along with planning a Mars mission, even going so far as to say that the first travelers to Mars have a “good chance” of dying before ever returning to Earth.

Still, that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of brave souls lined up to add their name to history books for all eternity. Would you go? I mean, I probably wouldn’t, but that’s just because I have a bad knee from a bowling accident.