Category: earth

Meet Parker Solar Probe, Our Mission to Touch …

In just a few weeks, we’re launching a spacecraft to get closer to the Sun than any human-made object has ever gone.

The mission, called Parker Solar Probe, is outfitted with a lineup of instruments to measure the Sun’s particles, magnetic and electric fields, solar wind and more – all to help us better understand our star, and, by extension, stars everywhere in the universe.

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Parker Solar Probe is about the size of a small car, and after launch – scheduled for no earlier than Aug. 6, 2018 – it will swing by Venus on its way to the Sun, using a maneuver called a gravity assist to draw its orbit closer to our star. Just three months after launch, Parker Solar Probe will make its first close approach to the Sun – the first of 24 throughout its seven-year mission.

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Though Parker Solar Probe will get closer and closer to the Sun with each orbit, the first approach will already place the spacecraft as the closest-ever human-made object to the Sun, swinging by at 15 million miles from its surface. This distance places it well within the corona, a region of the Sun’s outer atmosphere that scientists think holds clues to some of the Sun’s fundamental physics.

For comparison, Mercury orbits at about 36 million miles from the Sun, and the previous record holder – Helios 2, in 1976 – came within 27 million miles of the solar surface. 

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Humanity has studied the Sun for thousands of years, and our modern understanding of the Sun was revolutionized some 60 years ago with the start of the Space Age. We’ve come to understand that the Sun affects Earth in more ways than just providing heat and light – it’s an active and dynamic star that releases solar storms that influence Earth and other worlds throughout the solar system. The Sun’s activity can trigger the aurora, cause satellite and communications disruptions, and even – in extreme cases – lead to power outages.

Much of the Sun’s influence on us is embedded in the solar wind, the Sun’s constant outflow of magnetized material that can interact with Earth’s magnetic field. One of the earliest papers theorizing the solar wind was written by Dr. Gene Parker, after whom the mission is named.

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Though we understand the Sun better than we ever have before, there are still big questions left to be answered, and that’s where scientists hope Parker Solar Probe will help.  

First, there’s the coronal heating problem. This refers to the counterintuitive truth that the Sun’s atmosphere – the corona – is much, much hotter than its surface, even though the surface is millions of miles closer to the Sun’s energy source at its core. Scientists hope Parker Solar Probe’s in situ and remote measurements will help uncover the mechanism that carries so much energy up into the upper atmosphere.

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Second, scientists hope to better understand the solar wind. At some point on its journey from the Sun out into space, the solar wind is accelerated to supersonic speeds and heated to extraordinary temperatures. Right now, we measure solar wind primarily with a group of satellites clustered around Lagrange point 1, a spot in space between the Sun and Earth some 1 million miles from us. 

By the time the solar wind reaches these satellites, it has traveled about 92 million miles already, blending together the signatures that could shed light on the acceleration process. Parker Solar Probe, on the other hand, will make similar measurements less than 4 million miles from the solar surface – much closer to the solar wind’s origin point and the regions of interest.

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Scientists also hope that Parker Solar
Probe will uncover the mechanisms at work behind the acceleration of solar
energetic particles, which can reach speeds more than half as fast as the speed
of light as they rocket away from the Sun! Such particles can interfere with
satellite electronics, especially for satellites outside of Earth’s magnetic
field.

Parker
Solar Probe will launch from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air
Force Station, adjacent to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Because of the enormous speed required to
achieve its solar orbit, the spacecraft will launch on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy, one of the most powerful rockets in the
world.

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Stay tuned over the next few weeks to learn more about Parker Solar Probe’s science and follow along with its journey to launch. We’ll be posting updates here on Tumblr, on Twitter and Facebook, and at nasa.gov/solarprobe.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

5 Examples of How Our Satellite Data is Helpin…

We could talk all day about how our satellite data is crucial for Earth science…tracking ocean currents, monitoring natural disasters, soil mapping – the list goes on and on.

But did you know there is another way this data can improve life here on Earth?

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Our satellite data can be used to build businesses and commercial products – but finding and using this data has been a daunting task for many potential users because it’s been stored across dozens of websites.

Until now.

Our Technology Transfer program has just released their solution to make finding data easier, called The NASA Remote Sensing Toolkit (RST).

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RST offers an all-in-one approach to finding and using our Earth Science data, the tools needed to analyze it, and software to build your own tools.  

Before, we had our petabytes on petabytes of information spread out across dozens of websites – not to mention the various software tools needed to interpret the data. 

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Now, RST helps users find everything they need while having only one browser open.

Feeling inspired to innovate with our data? Here are just a few examples of how other companies have taken satellite data and turned it into products, known as NASA spinoffs, that are helping our planet today.

1. Bringing Landscape into Focus

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We have a number of imaging systems for locating fires, but none were capable of identifying small fires or indicating the flames’ intensity. Thanks to a series of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts between our Ames Research Center and Xiomas Technologies LLC, the Wide Area Imager aerial scanner does just that. While we and the U.S. Forest Service use it for fire detection, the tool is also being used by municipalities for detailed aerial surveillance projects.

2. Monitoring the Nation’s Forests with the Help of Our Satellites

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Have you ever thought about the long-term effects of natural disasters, such as hurricanes, on forest life? How about the big-time damage caused by little pests, like webworms? 

Our Stennis Space Center did, along with multiple forest services and environmental threat assessment centers. They partnered to create an early warning system to identify, characterize, and track disturbances from potential forest threats using our satellite data. The result was ForWarn, which is now being used by federal and state forest and natural resource managers.

3. Informing Forecasts of Crop Growth

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Want to hear a corny story?

Every year Stennis teams up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to host a program called Ag 20/20 to utilize remote sensing technology for operational use in agricultural crop management practices at the level of individual farms.
During Ag 20/20 in 2000, an engineering contractor developed models for using our satellite data to predict corn crop yield. The model was eventually sold to Genscape Inc., which has commercialized it as LandViewer. Sold under a subscription model, LandViewer software provides predictions of corn production to ethanol plants and grain traders.

4. Water Mapping Technology Rebuilds Lives in Arid Regions

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No joking around here. Lives depend on the ability to find precious water in areas with little of it.  

Using our Landsat satellite and other topographical data, Radar Technologies International developed an algorithm-based software program that can locate underground water sources. Working with international organizations and governments, the firm is helping to provide water for refugees and other people in drought-stricken regions such as Kenya, Sudan, and Afghanistan.

5. Satellite Maps Deliver More Realistic Gaming

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Are you more of the creative type? This last entry used satellite data to help people really get into their gameplay.

When Electronic Arts (EA) decided to make SSX, a snowboarding video game, it faced challenges in creating realistic-looking mountains. The solution was our ASTER Global Digital Elevation Map, made available by our Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which EA used to create 28 real-life mountains from 9 different ranges for its award-winning game.

You can browse our Remote Sensing Toolkit at technology.nasa.gov.

Want to know more about future tutorial webinars on RST?

Follow our Technology Transfer Program on twitter @NASAsolutions for the latest updates.

Want to learn more about the products made by NASA technologies? Head over to spinoff.nasa.gov.

Sign up to receive updates about upcoming tutorials HERE.

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Cape Town was on the verge of running out of w…

Cape Town was on the verge of running out of water. The South African city of 3.7 million people had suffered years of drought. But after nearly running dry earlier this year, the reservoirs are now rising thanks to rain, conservation efforts, and engineering fixes.

The city’s largest reservoir—Theewaterskloof—holds 40 percent of Cape Town’s water storage capacity, so it’s a good barometer for the amount of water available. Natural-color images, captured by Landsat 8, show the change in water levels at Theewaterskloof between July 22, 2017, and July 9, 2018.

Read more HERE.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.  

We See Seashores Shifting with Satellites

If you’re like us, as soon as the summer Sun is out, you start feeling – well, just beachy, sand you very much. 

Lots of our favorite beaches are inside protected marine areas, which are regulated by governments to keep their ecosystems or cultural heritage intact. If you beachcomb at Cape Cod, swim in the Florida Keys or learn about Hawaiian culture at Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, congrats! You’ve visited a protected marine area.

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But time and tide haven’t been kind to some protected beaches.

Beaches are constantly changing, and science teams are using our 30-year record of Earth images from the NASA/USGS Landsat program to study what’s happening.

Overall, the sum total of sandy beaches has increased a bit over the last 30 years. But time and tide haven’t been as kind to our protected beaches – the team found that more than 1/3 of sandy beaches in protected marine areas have been eroding away.

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Some of these areas were designated to protect vulnerable plant and animal species or connect delicate ecosystems. They are home to humpback whales and sea turtles, reefs and mangroves that protect the land from erosion and natural disasters, and species which are found in only one habitat in the world. Losing land area could upset the balance of these areas and endanger their future.

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Next step: Looking for pearls of wisdom to save the beaches!

Right now, we aren’t sure which beaches are eroding due to natural processes, and which are due to humans – that’s the next step for science teams to investigate. Once we know the causes, we can start working on solutions to save the beaches.

Those 30 years of Landsat data will help scientists find answers to these questions much faster – instead of using airplanes or measuring the beaches by hand, they can use computer programs to rapidly investigate millions of satellite photos spanning many years of change.

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By tracking beaches from space, scientists can help keep our summers sandy for years to come.

And that makes us as happy as clams.

Read the full story HERE.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.  

A room with Earth views! 🌎 Earlier this week,…

A room with Earth views! 🌎 Earlier this week, astronaut Ricky Arnold captured this spectacular view of our home planet while he was orbiting at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour. If you’re wondering where in the world this video was taken, it starts as the International Space Station is above San Francisco and moving southward through the Americas. 

Each day, the station completes 16 orbits of our home planet as the six humans living and working aboard our orbiting laboratory conduct important science and research. Their work will not only benefit life here on Earth, but will help us venture deeper into space than ever before.

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Using All of Our Senses in Space

Today, we and the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the detection of light and a high-energy cosmic particle that both came from near a black hole billions of trillions of miles from Earth. This discovery is a big step forward in the field of multimessenger astronomy.

But wait — what is multimessenger astronomy? And why is it a big deal?

People learn about different objects through their senses: sight, touch, taste, hearing and smell. Similarly, multimessenger astronomy allows us to study the same astronomical object or event through a variety of “messengers,” which include light of all wavelengths, cosmic ray particles, gravitational waves, and neutrinos — speedy tiny particles that weigh almost nothing and rarely interact with anything. By receiving and combining different pieces of information from these different messengers, we can learn much more about these objects and events than we would from just one.

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Lights, Detector, Action!  

Much of what we know about the universe comes just from different wavelengths of light. We study the rotations of galaxies through radio waves and visible light, investigate the eating habits of black holes through X-rays and gamma rays, and peer into dusty star-forming regions through infrared light.

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The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, which recently turned 10, studies the universe by detecting gamma rays — the highest-energy form of light. This allows us to investigate some of the most extreme objects in the universe.

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Last fall, Fermi was involved in another multimessenger finding — the very first detection of light and gravitational waves from the same source, two merging neutron stars. In that instance, light and gravitational waves were the messengers that gave us a better understanding of the neutron stars and their explosive merger into a black hole.

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Fermi has also advanced our understanding of blazars, which are galaxies with supermassive black holes at their centers. Black holes are famous for drawing material into them. But with blazars, some material near the black hole shoots outward in a pair of fast-moving jets. With blazars, one of those jets points directly at us!

Multimessenger Astronomy is Cool

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Today’s announcement combines another pair of messengers. The IceCube Neutrino Observatory lies a mile under the ice in Antarctica and uses the ice itself to detect neutrinos. When IceCube caught a super-high-energy neutrino and traced its origin to a specific area of the sky, they alerted the astronomical community.

Fermi completes a scan of the entire sky about every three hours, monitoring thousands of blazars among all the bright gamma-ray sources it sees. For months it had observed a blazar producing more gamma rays than usual. Flaring is a common characteristic in blazars, so this did not attract special attention. But when the alert from IceCube came through about a neutrino coming from that same patch of sky, and the Fermi data were analyzed, this flare became a big deal!

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IceCube, Fermi, and followup observations all link this neutrino to a blazar called TXS 0506+056. This event connects a neutrino to a supermassive black hole for the very first time.  

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Why is this such a big deal? And why haven’t we done it before? Detecting a neutrino is hard since it doesn’t interact easily with matter and can travel unaffected great distances through the universe. Neutrinos are passing through you right now and you can’t even feel a thing!

The neat thing about this discovery — and multimessenger astronomy in general — is how much more we can learn by combining observations. This blazar/neutrino connection, for example, tells us that it was protons being accelerated by the blazar’s jet. Our study of blazars, neutrinos, and other objects and events in the universe will continue with many more exciting multimessenger discoveries to come in the future.

Want to know more? Read the story HERE.

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What’s Up – July 2018

What’s Up for July?

Mars is closest to Earth since 2003!

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July’s night skies feature Mars opposition on the 27th, when Mars, Earth, and the Sun all line up, and Mars’ closest approach to Earth since 2003 on the 31st. 

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If you’ve been sky watching for 15 years or more, then you’ll remember August 2003, when Mars approached closer to Earth than it had for thousands of years.

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It was a very small percentage closer, but not so much that it was as big as the moon as some claimed.   

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Astronomy clubs everywhere had long lines of people looking through their telescopes at the red planet, and they will again this month!

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 If you are new to stargazing, this month and next will be a great time to check out Mars. 

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Through a telescope, you should be able to make out some of the light and dark features, and sometimes polar ice. Right now, though, a huge Martian dust storm is obscuring many features, and less planetary detail is visible.

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July 27th is Mars opposition, when Mars, Earth, and the Sun all line up, with Earth directly in the middle.

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A few days later on July 31st is Mars’ closest approach. That’s when Mars and Earth are nearest to each other in their orbits around the Sun. Although there will be a lot of news focusing on one or the other of these two dates, Mars will be visible for many months.

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By the end of July, Mars will be visible at sunset.

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But the best time to view it is several hours after sunset, when Mars will appear higher in the sky.

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Mars will still be visible after July and August, but each month it will shrink in apparent size as it travels farther from Earth in its orbit around the Sun.

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On July 27th a total lunar eclipse will be visible in Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe and South America.

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For those viewers, Mars will be right next to the eclipsing moon!

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Next month will feature August’s summer Perseids. It’s not too soon to plan a dark sky getaway for the most popular meteor shower of the year! 

Watch the full What’s Up for July Video:

There are so many
sights to see in the sky. To stay informed, subscribe to our What’s Up video
series on Facebook
.

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🌊🌊🌊 This natural-color image captured May 1…

🌊🌊🌊 This natural-color image captured May 17 near the coast of Guinea-Bissau in West Africa shows estuaries branching out like a network of roots from a plant. Crossfading to a data visualization helps reveals water clarity due to dissolved organic matter in Guinea-Bissau. 

With their long tendrils, the rivers meander through the country’s lowland plains to join the Atlantic Ocean. On the way, they carry water, nutrients, but also sediments out from the land. These estuaries play an important role in agriculture for this small country that is mostly made up of flat terrain. While the coastal valleys can flood often during the rainiest part of the year in the summer, the rain makes the valleys good locations for farming, especially rice cultivation. Using satellite data, researchers continue to observe the country’s change in terrain and as a result, they’re documenting a regrowth of previously eroded coastal areas.

Learn more

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The Science Behind the Summer Solstice

Today – Thursday, June 21 – is the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. But what causes this change in seasons? And what exactly is a solstice? It’s all about Earth’s tilt!

Many people believe that Earth is closer to the Sun in the summer and that is why it is hotter. And, likewise, they think Earth is farthest from the Sun in the winter.

Although this idea makes sense, it is incorrect. There is a different reason for Earth’s seasons.

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Earth’s axis is an imaginary pole going right through the center of Earth from “top” to “bottom.” Earth spins around this pole, making one complete turn each day. That is why we have day and night, and why every part of Earth’s surface gets some of each.

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Earth has seasons because its axis doesn’t stand up straight. Today, the north pole is tipped toward the Sun, and the south pole is tipped away from the Sun. The northern summer solstice is an instant in time when the north pole of the Earth points more directly toward the Sun than at any other time of the year. It marks the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere and winter in the southern hemisphere.

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To mark the beginning of summer, here are four ways to enjoy the many wonders of space throughout the season: 

1. Spot the International Space Station

As the third brightest object in the sky, the International Space Station is easy to see if you know when to look up. Sign up to get alerts when the station is overhead: https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/.
Visible to the naked eye, it looks like a fast-moving plane only much higher and traveling thousands of miles an hour faster!

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2.  Treat your ears to space-related podcasts

From our “Gravity Assist” podcast that takes you on a journey through the solar system (including the Sun!) to our “NASA in Silicon Valley” podcast that provides an in-depth look at people who push the boundaries of innovation, we have podcast offerings that will suit everyone’s taste. For a full list of our podcasts, visit https://www.nasa.gov/podcasts.

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3. Explore space by downloading NASA apps

Our apps for smartphones, tablets and digital media players showcase a huge collection of space-related content, including images, videos on-demand, NASA Television, mission information, feature stories, satellite tracking and much more. For a full list of our apps available for download, visit https://www.nasa.gov/connect/apps.html

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4. Watch launches to space

This summer, we have multiple opportunities for you to take in the sights of spacecraft launches that will deliver supplies and equipment to astronauts living aboard the International Space Station, explore our solar system and much more. Be sure to mark your calendar for upcoming launches and landings!

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

10 Things to Know: Massive Dust Storm on Mars

Massive Martian dust storms have been challenging—and enticing—scientists for decades. Here’s the scoop on Martian dust:

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1: Challenging Opportunity

Our Opportunity rover is facing one of the greatest challenges of its 14 ½ year mission on the surface of Mars–a massive dust storm that has turned day to night. Opportunity is currently hunkered down on Mars near the center of a storm bigger than North America and Russia combined. The dust-induced darkness means the solar-powered rover can’t recharge its batteries.

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2: One Tough Robot

This isn’t the first time Opportunity has had to wait out a massive storm. In 2007, a monthlong series of severe storms filled the Martian skies with dust. Power levels reached critical lows, but engineers nursed the rover back to health when sunlight returned.

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3: Windswept

Martian breezes proved a saving grace for the solar-powered Mars rovers in the past, sweeping away accumulated dust and enabling rovers to recharge and get back to science. This is Opportunity in 2014. The image on the left is from January 2014. The image on the right in March 2014.

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4: Dusty Disappointment

Back in 1971, scientists were eager for their first orbital views of Mars. But when Mariner 9 arrived in orbit, the Red Planet was engulfed by a global dust storm that hid most of the surface for a month. When the dust settled, geologists got detailed views of the Martian surface, including the first glimpses of ancient riverbeds carved into the dry and dusty landscape.

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5: Dramatic License

As bad as the massive storm sounds, Mars isn’t capable of generating the strong winds that stranded actor Matt Damon’s character on the Red Planet in the movie The Martian. Mars’ atmosphere is too thin and winds are more breezy than brutal. The chore of cleaning dusty solar panels to maintain power levels, however, could be a very real job for future human explorers.

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6: Semi-Regular Visitors

Scientists know to expect big dust storms on Mars, but the rapid development of the current one is surprising. Decades of Mars observations show a pattern of regional dust storms arising in northern spring and summer. In most Martian years, nearly twice as long as Earth years, the storms dissipate. But we’ve seen global dust storms in 1971, 1977, 1982, 1994, 2001 and 2007. The current storm season could last into 2019.

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7: Science in the Dust

Dust is hard on machines, but can be a boon to science. A study of the 2007 storm published earlier this year suggests such storms play a role in the ongoing process of gas escaping from the top of Mars’ atmosphere. That process long ago transformed wetter, warmer ancient Mars into today’s arid, frozen planet. Three of our orbiters, the Curiosity rover and international partners are already in position to study the 2018 storm.

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8: Adjusting InSight

Mission controllers for Mars InSight lander–due to land on Mars in November–will be closely monitoring the storm in case the spacecraft’s landing parameters need to be adjusted for safety. 

Once on the Red Planet, InSight will use sophisticated geophysical instruments to delve deep beneath the surface of Mars, detecting the fingerprints of the processes of terrestrial planet formation, as well as measuring the planet’s “vital signs”: Its “pulse” (seismology), “temperature” (heat flow probe), and “reflexes” (precision tracking).

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9: Martian Weather Report

One saving grace of dust storms is that they can actually limit the extreme temperature swings experienced on the Martian surface. The same swirling dust that blocks out sunlight also absorbs heat, raising the ambient temperature surrounding Opportunity.

Track the storm and check the weather on Mars anytime.

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10: Dust: Not Just a Martian Thing

A dust storm in the Sahara can change the skies in Miami and temperatures in the North Atlantic. Earth scientists keep close watch on our home planet’s dust storms, which can darken skies and alter Earth’s climate patterns.

Read the full web version of this article HERE

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