Tagged: Weather

Watch the colossal Martian dust storm swallow the planet, and Opportunity along with it

By now you’ve surely heard about the massive dust storm currently raging on Mars. Our planetary neighbor is experiencing a pretty serious bout of cloudy skies thanks to raging winds which have kicked up the orange soil and tossed it aloft. NASA’s Opportunity rover is caught right in the middle of it all, and while we’ve seen some examples of how day has turned to night as the storm swallows up an ever-growing chunk of the planet, seeing the storm grow from space is a whole different story.

A new animation released from NASA compiles several images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter into a time-lapse of sorts. The composite photos reveal just how large the storm has gotten, and also shows how quickly the Opportunity rover was engulfed.

It’s some pretty stunning imagery, and the contrast between the fresh orange Martian dust and the more pale surface makes it all very easy to see. It’s neat to see from a casual observer’s perspective, but the storm is equally awesome for scientists, despite the troubles it’s causing for Opportunity.

“This is the ideal storm for Mars science,” Jim Watzin, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, explains. “We have a historic number of spacecraft operating at the Red Planet. Each offers a unique look at how dust storms form and behave — knowledge that will be essential for future robotic and human missions.”

The storm is certainly a momentous event, but it’s not entirely unprecedented. Scientists have observed similar storms on the Red Planet in the past, and some of them have been even more widespread than what we are currently seeing. As NASA explains, one such storm back in 1971 covered nearly the entire planet, with only the peaks of some Martian volcanos peeking through the thick dust clouds.

NASA expects the storm to continue to rage for days or perhaps longer, and once the skies clear we’ll finally find out what kind of status Opportunity is in. The rover is quite old by NASA standards, approaching its 15th year. It was originally only intended to be used for 90 days, but it has received several mission extensions thanks to its impressive longevity.

 

Here’s what NASA’s Opportunity rover saw as it was swallowed up by the Martian dust storm

Things are not looking great for NASA’s Opportunity rover on Mars. The rover, which is nearing its 15th year, is currently stuck in a fierce dust storm that is blanketing the planet, and it’s unclear whether it will make it out unscathed. The friendly little robot radioed back to its handlers on Earth on Sunday morning, letting them know that it still had enough power to communicate, but those transmissions have since ceased.

In a new update from NASA, the Opportunity team notes that a more recent attempt to contact Opportunity has been met with only silence. This indicates that the rover is now in a critical low-power mode where it basically hibernates while occasionally checking power levels.

In a new image, NASA shows how the massive storm is hampering Opportunity’s solar panels. The image, which is a composite simulation of the varying degrees of atmospheric opacity that the rover would have seen as it was gradually swallowed up, reveals just how dark the skies are getting above Opportunity.

“The left starts with a blindingly bright mid-afternoon sky, with the sun appearing bigger because of brightness,” NASA explains. “The right shows the Sun so obscured by dust it looks like a pinprick. Each frame corresponds to a tau value, or measure of opacity: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11.”

The low light level is preventing Opportunity from keeping its batteries charged, and while science objectives were placed on hold as the dust storm approached, it simply didn’t have enough power in its reserves to keep it awake as the dust clouds engulfed it.

According to NASA, the rover’s current state allows it to wake back up from time to time so that it can check its power reserves. Once the solar panels begin providing power once again, it will wake to find its batteries charged, in which case it can resume its mission. However, scientists don’t know when that might actually happen.

“If the rover’s computer determines that its batteries don’t have enough charge, it will again put itself back to sleep,” NASA says. “Due to an extreme amount of dust over Perseverance Valley, mission engineers believe it is unlikely the rover has enough sunlight to charge back up for at least the next several days.”

Hailstorm sends American Airlines jet into plunge described as ‘five minutes of hell’

We’ve all seen the statistics that tell us how safe flying is. It’s safer than pretty much any kind of transportation, you’re more likely to die in a car crash on the way to the airport than you are to meet your end in a plane crash, yada yada yada. None of that matters when you’re experiencing a high-altitude emergency, and passengers of a recent American Airlines flight from San Antonio to El Paso know all about that .

The flight started off fine, but just when the trip was hitting its stride things began to fall apart. The plane ended up in the heart of a strong storm which created intense turbulence, severely damaging the plane and causing terror in the cabin.

As The Independent reports, the plane was forced downward by the severe storm, and passengers who spoke with reporters describe a seriously unsettling situation.

One passenger, Jesse Esparza, said things became so dire that he logged onto the in-flight Wi-Fi and attempted to text his mother to say goodbye.

“We dropped so hard that objects in people’s laps start flying inside the aircraft,” Esparza explained. “My seatbelt is pulling against my waist keeping me in my seat. Babies screaming. I start hyperventilating. I grab my phone and sign on to the WiFi. I text my mom that I love her.”

Passengers were reportedly vomiting and screaming as the plane fell in altitude, but the pilots managed to right the ship, so to speak, despite some pretty severe damage. Photos posted of the plane after landing show cracked cockpit windows and a massive dent in the nose of the aircraft.

American Airlines released a brief statement commending the pilots and flight crew for safely landing the plane. No injuries were reported from the 130 passengers or handful of crew members.

Browse 20 years of Earth’s weather with NASA’s incredible Worldview tool

Whenever NASA shows off a stunning new image of Earth from space it’s fun to take a few minutes to soak in all the details. What we sometimes forget is that NASA’s high-flying tools don’t just capture those amazing moments, they capture everything. For almost two decades NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) hardware has been observing weather patterns here on Earth and now, thanks to the magic of the internet, you can journey through it all, day by day, right from your browser.

NASA updated its Worldview application with the incredible wealth of weather data and the tool is a breeze to use. In addition to the update, NASA released a brief video showcasing a few of the highlights hidden in the massive amount of data, showing you when and where to zoom in if you want to check it out for yourself.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X16cfGPL2wA

“In the ’80s and ’90s, if you wanted to look at, say, clouds off the coast of California, you had to figure out the time of year when it was best to look at these clouds, then place a data request for a specific window of days when you thought the satellite overflew the area,” Santiago Gassó of NASA’s Goddard Earth Sciences Technology And Research program, explains. “You would get a physical tape with these images and have to put this into the processing system. Only then would you know if the image was usable. This process used to take from days to weeks. Now, you can look at images for days, weeks and even years in a matter of minutes in Worldview, immediately find the images you need, and download them for use. It’s fantastic!”

“Fantastic” is a great way to describe the tool, and it’s actually way more fun to browse through days, months, and years of weather patterns than you might imagine. A particularly neat addition to the tool is the ability to select a date range and then click the little video icon to run an animation showing the movement of the weather systems.

Because of the nature of high-tech orbital hardware, some days have chunks of missing data which show up as large black splotches on the map, but they are fairly infrequent and won’t spoil your fun.