MAJOR DUST STORM ON MARS
A major storm has just broken out on Mars and the event will be visible this weekened with good-sized backyard telescopes.
The timing is incredible .Amteur sky-watchers around the world looked towards Mars on Saturday night because it will be closer to Earth than anytime until the year 2018.The dust storm was no more than a small bright dot on Thursday yet it was large and obvious Friday,as seen in images taken by Clay Sherod at the Arkansas Sky Observatories.
Nasa took note and is monitoring signls from its Mars rovers,one of which has detected signs of the storm, space.com has learned.
The storm will be quite obvious and plainly visible in even small telescopes from the Western Hemispherefor about the next week.Sherrod said in an e-mail to colleagues.The storm has seven appendages that stretch in all directions,Sherrod said.the overall cloud is about 700 to 800 milesacross,according to estimates by longtime Mars-watcher Joel Warren,Sherrod said.
Warren,of Amarillo,TX,said that he took the first image of the storm rotating into view early Friday using his 8-inch telescope.He notified Sherrod and others of its existence.The dusty cloud is spreading at a speed of about 35 mph and may become larger by the weekend.
Dust storms are fairly common on Mars.Small storms have been known to swell and engulf the entire planet,as occurred in 2001.
In 2003,Mars made the closest pass to Earth that had occurred for 60,000 years.This weekend,it won’t be quite that close,but still better than the other close approaches it makes every 26 months.
Earth is closer to the Sun,so it effectively passes Mars every26 months as both worlds orbit the central star.
Sherrod said the dust storm is not currently visible during nighttime hours from Europe or Australia.Nasa’s Mars rover Opportunity ,currently exploring the Meridiani Planum, has seen some signs of the dust storm,which is apparently nearby .
This may be the second biggest dust storm that opportunity has seen,Mark Lemmon,a rover science team member from Texas A&M University ,sai,adding that he has seen the images taken by Sherrod.
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