Mars' giant dust storms could be behind the planet's water loss

Mars has massive dust storms that tend to happen in the summer months on the planet. These dust storms can last for weeks and cover areas of the planet as large as the United States. Sometimes the dust storms are even more massive and involve the entire planet. These dust storms pose a significant threat to equipment on the Red Planet and any potential future manned mission.

The last global dust storm on Mars happened in the summer of 2018 and was responsible for spelling the end of the Opportunity rover. The benefit of that massive dust storm for scientists was that there were eight spacecraft orbiting or roving on the surface of the planet during the storm giving more data about Mars' global storms than we ever had in the past. The huge amount of data gathered by the spacecraft has provided scientists plenty to study, and investigations are ongoing.

Preliminary reports include insights that suggest the massive dust storms could have impacted Martian water, winds, and climate in the past and how they might influence future weather and solar power generation on the planet. Scientists say that the global dust storms may explain how the lakes, rivers, and possible oceans that evidence has been found of could have disappeared.

The team found that the global dust storms loft water vapor up very high into the atmosphere to altitudes as high as 50 miles above the surface. At that altitude, the thin Martian atmosphere interferes with the normal water cycle that on Earth would have that water returned as rain or snow. Water lofted to higher parts of the atmosphere is easier to get blown away.

The water vapor reaches the "escape region" of the upper atmosphere which is an important insight into how water on the surface of the planet might have disappeared. The scientists will take the new data into account for their predictions on how much water flowed on Mars in the past and how long it might have taken to disappear.