Martian storms

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While The martian written by Andy Weir is a really hard stuff, but the effects of the storm at the beginning arent.

But i wonder could a real solar/sandstorm actually help a prison break on Mars (from a remote penal colony)?

Could it mask tracks in the dust?
Could it create enough interference to cause communication problems with beyond the horizont radio? (Escapees cut energy to prevent sending a high energy beam to a satellite)
How much it could make harder to spot a rover from space? (Most spacecraft the authorities have is on, or beyond aerostationary orbit. They rather care about an outside attack than monitor a dead planet, where only underground and domed cities. )
Could it cause significant trouble to drones? (Nasa thinks that large wingspan minimal weight drones might be useful in martian atmosphere)
 
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Could it mask tracks in the dust?
Yes, storms move sufficient dust around to more than cover tracks, check out https://mars.nasa.gov/news/martian-winds-carve-mountains-move-dust-raise-dust/ for an idea of the sculpting power of what is essentially trillions of fine particles of basalt rock!

Could it create enough interference to cause communication problems with beyond the horizont radio?
With regard communications interference, some theorists suggest that dust storms can lead to large atmospheric electrical charges that are likely to cause self-induced electricity and lightning. The Schiaparelli EDM lander mission in 2016 was going to test for this but it unfortunately crashed on entry, but it is likely such storms would interfere with radio comms.

But over the horizon comms is dependent on the characteristics of the ionosphere and Mars' one may not be sufficient for radio wave propagation. Refer to https://descanso.jpl.nasa.gov/propagation/mars/MarsPub_sec2.pdf for some ideas on this.

How much it could make harder to spot a rover from space?
Very. Check out https://mars.nasa.gov/news/8370/opportunity-emerges-in-a-dusty-picture/ for a working example of this!

Could it cause significant trouble to drones?
We've not yet tested this, but storms are likely to cause problems for drones. These storms can engulf that planet and even as far back as Viking, wind speeds of 6 km/h were measured with 94 km/h gusts. The Martian air pressure means there is no much force in such speeds, but that also means a flying drone needs to be very light - which usually equals fragile. Plus, the dirt is very fine grained so is likely to gum up the works of any drone and static electricity makes it sticky.

But most readers of novel will just take whatever you write at face value if you give appropriate context, so my advice is not to get hung up on detail and get on with the storytelling 👍
 
798
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With regard communications interference, some theorists suggest that dust storms can lead to large atmospheric electrical charges that are likely to cause self-induced electricity and lightning. The Schiaparelli EDM lander mission in 2016 was going to test for this but it unfortunately crashed on entry, but it is likely such storms would interfere with radio comms.

But over the horizon comms is dependent on the characteristics of the ionosphere and Mars' one may not be sufficient for radio wave propagation. Refer to https://descanso.jpl.nasa.gov/propagation/mars/MarsPub_sec2.pdf for some ideas on this.
Couldnt beyond the horizont comm rely on diffraction of atmosphere instead of the ionosphere?
 
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Couldnt beyond the horizont comm rely on diffraction of atmosphere instead of the ionosphere?
Doesn't diffraction require a sharp edge? Not sure that the atmosphere would provide the conditions for that.
 

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