Opportunity or Mars Exploration Rover – B (MER-B) was hit by a dust storm in May 2018. Due to this incident, the Opportunity rover lost complete connection with the scientists on Earth. As the rover couldn’t recharge its batteries, it went into sleep mode forever. In February 2019, the NASA scientists declared it dead.
Now the scientists are exploring if the dust storms on Mars were responsible for killing any chance for life on the planet.
Study of Destructive Storms on Mars
Opportunity had been exploring Mars planet since 2004. It worked there for more than 15 years when it got killed by strong winds that coated the whole planet with dust. The solar panels of the rover lost power and finally, scientists claimed that it had gone forever.
Now, the scientists think that similar storms may be the reason of death blow to water on the red planet rendering to the possibility of any life chances there.
As the scientists studied the history of dust storms occurring on Mars, they figured out some amazing facts about the planet. According to them, Mars, once, had a thick atmosphere with up to 20% of its surface covered by liquid water. About 4 billion years ago, Mars lost most of its magnetic field. Consequently, it couldn’t protect its atmosphere from destructive solar winds. Thus, the water on the surface of the planet became vulnerable.
According to one of the latest observations from the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), the killing storms may have finished off the lakes and oceans on the planet. Although, water particles in the atmosphere normally persist at around 20 km in altitude. TGO observed that the dust storms that were responsible for the death of Opportunity, also lifter water molecules up to 80 km above the ground.
Since the atmosphere at that altitude is very thin so the water ripped into its constituent molecules i.e., Hydrogen and Oxygen due to charged solar particles.
One of the co-authors of TGO study, Geronimo Villanueva, stated that when water is brought to higher parts of the atmosphere, chances are; it might get blown away very easily.
Scientists are now further exploring the dust storms on Mars because this could assist them in combating severe conditions during future manned and robotic missions. Another nuclear rover known as Curiosity got a first-hand look at the storms by sending valuable data back to the scientists.
One key observation during this mission was that the dust storms or mini tornadoes on Mars tend to disappear during large storms. Since those swirling winds didn’t occur to clean the dust off the solar panels of the rover, it couldn’t survive.