mars dust storm 2018
A martian dust storm that started in late May, silencing NASA's Opportunity rover, has now wrapped itself around the entirety of Mars, transforming the appearance of the Red Planet. "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: [You can see the animation here]

"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 matches known albedo markings, especially the dark/light streaks."

In Rome, Italy, amateur astronomer Raffaello Lena has also been monitoring Mars. In this image he compares a picture he took in June 2016 with one taken just yesterday:
206 2018 mars dust storm
"Although the same side of Mars was facing us in both images, the planet looks totally different," he says. "Dust is hiding all of the usual surface markings."

Even naked-eye observers can see the effects of the storm. Mars is shining brightly the constellation Capricornus, easy to see at midnight. The planet's usual sharp burnt-orange color has been replaced by a wan salmon hue characteristic of dust. [sky map]

Mars is approaching Earth for a 15-year close encounter in late July. Astronomers have had this month marked on their calendars for years, expecting unusually clear views of the Red Planet. Martian dust may have other ideas. Stay tuned for updates.