Massive Mars dust storm spotted by China's Tianwen-1 probe (photos)

photo of a golden spacecraft in orbit around mars.
China's Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter captured this stunning selfie above the Red Planet by jettisoning a small camera and beaming photos via WiFi to the mothership. (Image credit: CNSA/PEC)

China's Tianwen-1 orbiter spotted a massive dust storm on Mars near Olympus Mons, the biggest mountain in the solar system.

The massive dust storm was captured by the medium-resolution MoRIC camera on Tianwen-1 in January 2022. The mission launched in July 2020 and arrived in orbit around Mars just ahead of the arrival of NASA's Perseverance rover in February 2021. 

An image of the storm was processed by Andrea Luck, using data from China's Lunar and Planetary Data Release System. Luck then shared the images on X. A larger version is viewable on Flickr.

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A Chinese research team is developing methods to identify and assess sand and dust storms using MoRIC images, according to a journal article published in October last year.

Luck also processed a striking crescent Mars image of what is apparently the same storm near Olympus Mons, making the most of the fact there are several active orbiters around Mars. The image this time came from the UAE's Hope Mars mission probe.

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The Tianwen-1 mission also included the solar-powered Zhurong rover. Its successful landing made China only the second country to operate a rover on the Red Planet. 

Zhurong completed its primary mission and went on to conduct extended exploration activities in the large plain of Utopia Planitia. It entered hibernation in May 2022 and was expected to reawaken in December that year. 

However, China has been unable to make contact with the rover since its hibernation. It is thought that the vehicle's solar arrays became covered with more Martian dust than expected, rendering it unable to generate the power necessary to reactivate. 

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Andrew Jones
Contributing Writer

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI.