Thick Dust Clouds Spotted Near Martian Ice Cap
ESA's Mars Express took an incredible photo of dust clouds on Mars near the planet's north polar ice cap in April 2018, shortly before a larger dust storm darkened the entire planet's skies.
Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

A thick cloud of dust moves over the surface of Mars near the planet's north polar ice cap in a stunning photograph.

This June, a massive dust storm hit Mars, and before long, the storm had encapsulated the entire planet. But dust clouds are a common occurrence on Mars; before that storm, a smaller-scale tempest kicked up the impressive plumes in this new photo, taken in April by the European Space Agency's (ESA) Mars Express. The photoshows just how immense these clouds can get, with a thick dust cloud near the planet's north polar ice cap.

Dust storms happen on Mars most often during the southern summer season. At this time, the planet is closer to the sun along the elliptical Martian orbit, and the brightness increases the differences in temperature on Mars, which affect air movement on the planet. These temperature differences allow the Martian air to more easily lift dust particles on the surface, according to a statement from ESA.

However, while a planet-covering dust storm sounds terrifying, things aren't that chaotic on the surface. This is because storm wind speeds on Mars are usually less than half as fast as hurricane wind speeds on Earth. Additionally, because atmospheric pressure is so low on the Red Planet, even high-speed winds wouldn't do much damage to anyone on the planet. "You would probably feel a breeze, but it wouldn't be knocking you over," Michael Smith, who works at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, previously said to Space.com.

Mars Express captured this cloud using a high-resolution stereo camera on board. The dust storm that continues to rage on Mars is being imaged and monitored by five ESA and NASA orbiters, while NASA's Curiosity rover continues to collect data on the red, dusty surface.

Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@space.com or follow her @chelsea_gohd. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.