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Mars Exploration Program


Storm-Chasing Orbiter Tracks Martian Weather

image slideshow of the Storm-Chasing Orbiter Tracking Martian Weather

Like storm chasers on Earth, a NASA spacecraft spends time each day pursuing intense weather on Mars. Speeding along in orbit, it takes images of dust storms. Often, the storms are spiral like giant tornadoes on Earth. Sometimes they form huge fronts of churning dust like the "black blizzards" of the 1930s. The storms lift dust particles high into the atmosphere that serve as seeds for water-ice cloud formation. Water ice condenses onto the dust particles to form wispy, white clouds.

These images show whirlwinds on top of volcanoes and a dust front rising from a network of canyons. Thin veils of icy clouds dissipate into the atmosphere above the dust plumes. The orbiter has discovered that smaller storms on Mars can feed into larger storms. Now that NASA has extended the mission, there will be lots more chances to look for the perfect storm on Mars!

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Mars Color Imager
Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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  • This image shows two orbital views, arranged side by side, of whirlwinds spinning on calderas at the summits of volcanoes. On the left is Arsia Mons; on the right is Olympus Mons. Above the calderas are thin veils of water-ice clouds. On the left, the clouds radiate outward in a counterclockwise, spiral pattern like the spiral storm below.
  • This image shows a turbulent mass of thick, roiling, red Martian dust rising from a network of canyons and flowing diagonally toward the lower left corner of the frame. Above the storm front, wispy, white clouds of water ice trail off toward the left, toward the bottom of the frame, toward the top of the frame, and toward the upper right corner of the frame.

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