Tag Archives: dust storms

Dust storms spotted on Titan

Scientists reviewing Cassini data have identified dust storms for the first time of Saturn’s moon Titan.

When Rodriguez and his team first spotted three unusual equatorial brightenings in infrared images taken by Cassini around the moon’s 2009 northern equinox, they thought they might be the same kind of methane clouds; however, an investigation revealed they were something completely different. “From what we know about cloud formation on Titan, we can say that such methane clouds in this area and in this time of the year are not physically possible,” said Rodriguez. “The convective methane clouds that can develop in this area and during this period of time would contain huge droplets and must be at a very high altitude — much higher than the 6 miles (10 kilometers) that modeling tells us the new features are located.”

The researchers were also able to rule out that the features were actually on the surface of Titan in the form of frozen methane rain or icy lavas. Such surface spots would have a different chemical signature and would remain visible for much longer than the bright features in this study, which were visible for only 11 hours to five weeks.

In addition, modeling showed that the features must be atmospheric but still close to the surface — most likely forming a very thin layer of tiny solid organic particles. Since they were located right over the dune fields around Titan’s equator, the only remaining explanation was that the spots were actually clouds of dust raised from the dunes.

Obviously there are large uncertainties here. Nonetheless, the conclusion is a reasonable one, as it is expected that such dust storms would occur on Titan.

Posted just outside Zion National Park in the town of Springdale.

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Predicting the next Martian global dust storm

Scientists think they now have a method to predict the next global-wide dust storm on Mars, and based on this theory they predict it will happen very soon.

Global dust storms on Mars could soon become more predictable — which would be a boon for future astronauts there — if the next one follows a pattern suggested by those in the past. A published prediction, based on this pattern, points to Mars experiencing a global dust storm in the next few months. “Mars will reach the midpoint of its current dust storm season on October 29th of this year. Based on the historical pattern we found, we believe it is very likely that a global dust storm will begin within a few weeks or months of this date,” James Shirley, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

This is most interesting because my next rover update, later today or tomorrow, is going to note the increasingly dusty atmosphere in Gale Crater. It isn’t a global dust storm, but maybe it is indicative of one that is about to happen.

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Mars’ seasonal dust storms

Data from the many Martian orbiters since 1997 have allowed scientists to roughly outline a seasonal pattern of dust storms on Mars.

Most Martian dust storms are localized, smaller than about 1,200 miles (about 2,000 kilometers) across and dissipating within a few days. Some become regional, affecting up to a third of the planet and persisting up to three weeks. A few encircle Mars, covering the southern hemisphere but not the whole planet. Twice since 1997, global dust storms have fully enshrouded Mars. The behavior of large regional dust storms in Martian years that include global dust storms is currently unclear, and years with a global storm were not included in the new analysis.

They have also found three types of regional dust storms, all of which appear to occur each Martian year.

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