4. July 2019
Mission Mars Express

Dust storms swirl at Mars' north pole

Spiral dust storm on Mars
Spi­ral dust storm on Mars
Image 1/7, Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Spiral dust storm on Mars

In late May 2019, a spi­ral-shaped dust storm at the north po­lar ice cap of Mars was ob­served by sev­er­al in­stru­ments on board Mars Ex­press. This im­age was ac­quired by the High Res­o­lu­tion Stereo Cam­era on 26 May and cov­ers an area of ap­prox­i­mate­ly 2000 by 5000 kilo­me­tres. The spi­ral shape of the storm aris­es from the de­flec­tion of air mass­es due to the ro­ta­tion of the plan­et, a phe­nomenon known as the Cori­o­lis force. This ef­fect is al­so ob­served on Earth where low-pres­sure ar­eas at the north­ern hemi­sphere – cy­clones, for ex­am­ple – have a coun­ter­clock­wise spi­ral shape. Storms on Mars are gen­er­al­ly weak­er than storms on Earth how­ev­er, be­cause of the Red Plan­et’s much low­er at­mo­spher­ic pres­sure – less than one per­cent of Earth’s at­mo­spher­ic pres­sure at the sur­face – and have less than half the typ­i­cal wind speeds of hur­ri­canes on Earth. The swirling pat­tern of the north po­lar ice cap can al­so be seen at the far top-right of the im­age. At the same time, wispy clouds can be seen along the edge of the ice cap, and al­so fur­ther south (left), around the large vol­ca­noes. The dark patch­es are dune fields com­posed of dust-blown vol­canic ma­te­ri­al on the sur­face that built a gi­ant erg around the po­lar cap.      
Dust storm between late May and early June on Mars
Dust storm sea­son on Mars
Image 2/7, Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Dust storm season on Mars

Be­tween late May and ear­ly June, sev­er­al dif­fer­ent ir­reg­u­lar and spi­ral-shaped dust storms were seen to be form­ing at the north po­lar ice cap on Mars. The im­ages shown here were ac­quired by the High Res­o­lu­tion Stereo Cam­era on board ESA’s Mars Ex­press space­craft from an al­ti­tude of ap­prox­i­mate­ly 10,000 kilo­me­tres. The long im­age strips cov­er an area of about 2000 by 5000 kilo­me­tres, ex­tend­ing from the north pole equa­tor­ward to the large vol­ca­noes Olym­pus Mons and Ely­si­um Mons. The mon­tage of im­ages shows three dif­fer­ent storms de­vel­op­ing on 22 May, 26 May, and 6 June. In the lat­ter case, the cam­eras watched the storm evolve un­til 10 June, as it moved south­ward to­wards the vol­ca­noes. Thin patch­es of light-coloured clouds can be seen at the out­er mar­gin of the po­lar cap and al­so sev­er­al thou­sand kilo­me­tres away, close to the Ely­si­um vol­ca­noes. At the same time, wispy clouds can be seen along the edge of the ice cap, and al­so fur­ther south (left), around the large vol­ca­noes. The dark patch­es are dune fields com­posed of dust-blown vol­canic ma­te­ri­al on the sur­face that built a gi­ant erg around the po­lar cap.      
Mars dust storm
Mars dust storm
Image 3/7, Credit: ESA/GCP/UPV/EHU Bilbao

Mars dust storm

A dust storm un­der­way at the edge of the north po­lar ice cap of Mars. The im­age was ac­quired by the Mars Ex­press Vi­su­al Mon­i­tor­ing Cam­era on 29 May 2019.      
Dust storm on 22 May 2019
Dust storm on 22 May 2019
Image 4/7, Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Dust storm on 22 May 2019

This im­age was ac­quired with the DLR-op­er­at­ed HRSC stereo cam­era on 22 May 2019 and shows a dust storm on the edge of Mars' north po­lar ice cap.      
Dust storm on 26 May 2019
Dust storm on 26 May 2019
Image 5/7, Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Dust storm on 26 May 2019

This im­age was ac­quired with the DLR-op­er­at­ed HRSC stereo cam­era on 22 May 2019 and shows a dust storm on the edge of Mars' north po­lar ice cap.      
Dust storm on 6 June 2019
Dust storm on 6 June 2019
Image 6/7, Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Dust storm on 6 June 2019

This im­age was ac­quired with the DLR-op­er­at­ed HRSC stereo cam­era on 22 May 2019 and shows a dust storm on the edge of Mars' north po­lar ice cap.      
Dust storm on 11 June 2019
Dust storm on 11 June 2019
Image 7/7, Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Dust storm on 11 June 2019

This im­age was ac­quired with the DLR-op­er­at­ed HRSC stereo cam­era on 22 May 2019 and shows a dust storm on the edge of Mars' north po­lar ice cap.      
  • Between 22 May and 10 June 2019 Mars Express observed at least eight different storms at the edge of the north polar ice cap. These formed and dissipated within one and three days.
  • The two cameras on board the spacecraft, namely the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), developed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and the Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC), have been monitoring the storms over the last few weeks.
  • Focus: Space exploration, planetary research

ESA's Mars Express spacecraft has been observing local and regional dust storms forming at the north pole of the Red Planet over the last month, and watching as they disperse towards the equator. Local and regional storms lasting a few days or weeks and confined to a small area are commonplace on Mars, but at their most severe they can cover the entire planet, as happened last year during a global storm that encircled the planet for many months.

It is currently spring in the northern hemisphere, and water-ice clouds and small dust-lifting events are frequently observed along the edge of the seasonally retreating ice cap. Many of the spacecraft at Mars return daily weather reports from orbit or from the surface, providing global and local impressions of the changing atmospheric conditions.

Between 22 May and 10 June, ESA's Mars Express spacecraft observed at least eight different storms at the edge of the ice cap. These formed and dissipated very quickly, lasting between one and three days. The two cameras on board the spacecraft – the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) and the Visual Monitoring Camera (VMC) – have been monitoring the storms over the last few weeks.

The image at the top of this page, acquired by HRSC on 26 May, shows a spiral-shaped dust storm, its brown colour contrasting with the white ice of the north polar ice cap below. Meanwhile, the animated sequence (right) was compiled from images of a different storm, captured by the VMC over a period of 70 minutes on 29 May. This particular storm started on 28 May and continued until around 1 June, moving towards the equator during that time. The montage of images (below) shows three different storms developing on 22 May and 26 May, and between 6 and 10 June. In the latter case, the cameras watched the storm evolve for several days as it moved towards the equator.

This series of images covers about 70 minutes of motion as a dust storm moves around the north polar ice cap of Mars on 29 May 2019.
  
This series of images covers about 70 minutes of motion as a dust storm moves around the north polar ice cap of Mars on 29 May 2019.
Credit: ESA/GCP/UPV/EHU Bilbao

At the same time, wispy patches of light-coloured clouds can be seen at the outer margin of the polar cap and also several thousand kilometres away, close to the volcanoes Elysium Mons and Olympus Mons. Together with the MARCI camera on board NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Express observed that when the dust storms reached the large volcanoes, orographic clouds – water ice clouds that form due to the influence of the volcano’s leeward slope on the airflow – that had previously been developing started to evaporate as a result of the air mass being heated by the influx of dust.

These regional dust storms last only a few days; the elevated dust is transported and spread out by global circulation into a thin haze in the lower atmosphere, at altitudes of between approximately 20 and 40 kilometres. Some traces of dust and clouds remained in the volcanic province until mid-June.

Look out for dust storms in the daily images provided by the VMC – they are posted to a dedicated Flickr and Twitter account.

Contact
  • Prof.Dr. Ralf Jaumann
    Freie Uni­ver­sität Berlin
    In­sti­tute of Ge­o­log­i­cal Sci­ences
    Plan­e­tary Sci­ences and Re­mote Sens­ing
    Telephone: +49-172-2355864
    Malteserstr. 74-100
    12249 Berlin
    Contact
  • Daniela Tirsch
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    DLR In­sti­tute of Plan­e­tary Re­search
    Telephone: +49 30 67055-488
    Fax: +49 30 67055-402
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Köln
    Contact
  • Ulrich Köhler
    Pub­lic re­la­tions co­or­di­na­tor
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    In­sti­tute of Plan­e­tary Re­search
    Telephone: +49 30 67055-215
    Fax: +49 30 67055-402
    Rutherfordstraße 2
    12489 Berlin
    Contact
  • Elke Heinemann
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Pub­lic Af­fairs and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-2867
    Fax: +49 2203 601-3249

    Contact

Cookies help us to provide our services. By using our website you agree that we can use cookies. Read more about our Privacy Policy and visit the following link: Privacy Policy

Main menu