A martian dust storm that started in late May, silencing NASA’s Opportunity rover, has now wrapped itself around the entirety of Mars, radically transforming the appearance of the Red Planet. Amateur astronomers are taking pictures of the storm through backyard telescopes, and even naked-eye observers say they can see changes in the planet’s color.
“Mars has essentially vanished beneath the dust,” says longtime Mars photographer Damian Peach of the UK. He created this animation showing how much has changed:
“The animation shifts back and forth between a reference image of the Tharsis region taken by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft and my own image taken on June 28th,” he explains. “The volcanic peaks of Tharsis remain clear, and also a dark spot in Valles Marineris, but little else ties up with known albedo markings, especially the dark/light streaks.”
Mars is now approaching Earth for a 15-year close encounter in late July 2018. Astronomers have had this month marked on their calendars for years, expecting unusually clear views of the Red Planet. The dust storm may have other ideas.
Via NASA spaceweather.com