What I had already informally announced a couple of days ago, from the analysis of some photos of Mars taken by amateur astronomers with telescopes from Earth, has become official news.
The sandstorm triggered on May 31 has enveloped the entire planet and after having completely obscured “at night” the site of Opportunity, has already drastically reduced the visibility even in the site of Curiosity where the Sun is now invisible as if it were covered by thick clouds.
In a scale called “tau” and abbreviated with the homonymous Greek letter “τ”, it expresses the transparency of the atmosphere with values ranging from 0 (totally clear and transparent) to 12 (totally impenetrable to light and then total darkness even during the day). The last measurements sent by Opportunity two weeks ago gave τ=11.8 where currently Curiosity already stands at τ=8 with a landscape weakly illuminated by a red twilight in the total absence of shadows.
Despite its tenuous atmosphere (or supposedly so!), storms of this magnitude can lift dust up to over 60 km altitude for months; the last one of this magnitude occurred in 2007. The rovers present then were dependent on solar energy and had to be put in a state of “hibernation” thus losing the ability to document the phenomenon from the ground.
Curiosity instead, working with atomic batteries, will document for the first time what happens on the surface of Mars during a global dust storm, providing valuable information to understand the phenomena that lead an atmosphere so rarefied to raise an unprecedented amount of dust, a phenomenon still not fully understood even by scientists at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

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