Mars has faced a large number of storms, but from time to time, a series of global storms will engulf the entire planet, offering a fascinating vista.
A fleet of NASA spacecraft explored the 2018 global dust storm that brought an abrupt end to the Opportunity mission. The Opportunity rover, which relied on solar energy to operate, was forced to go off the grid and enter hibernation. It was thought that the spacecraft would return to normal after the storm ended, and after several trials, NASA decided to complete the mission.
A remarkable discovery was made recently as researchers observed that dust towers comprised concentrated clouds of dust that are rise high in the air due to warm sunlight. It is thought that within these towers, water vapor could be caught and brought into space, where the intense radiation will break the water molecules.
Dust towers appear on Mars during global storms
Dust towers are quite impressive as they are considerably denser and can reach much higher altitudes in comparison to regular clouds. They tend to form during global storms, but some have been encountered during smaller storms.
They will start to form near the surface as the dust in an area will be lifted rapidly. A tower that reaches a height of 50 miles (or 80 kilometers) can be as large as the state of Nevada. While global storms will surround the surface of the planet in a thick layer of dust, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will harness the power of a tool known as the Mars Climate Sounder, a type of heat-sensing radar that can penetrate the layer of dust.
During a global storm, the dust towers tend to last for more up three and a half weeks, a trait which is quite interesting since the regular version will collapse after a few days. Further research is already underway as scientists plan to learn more about dust towers and their influence.