Mars is a simple planet compared to Earth. Its climate should be very simple to model, predict, and understand, but Mars is periodically hit by dust storms that can engulf the entire planet and no-one understands why.
On Earth, dust storms are driven by wind, but Mars has less than 1% of Earth’s atmosphere, so it’s hard to understand how the thin air can lift any dust at all. Strangest of all are the dust devils. We have them here on Earth, but Mars sometimes has thousands, separated by only a few hundred feet. That’s not supposed to happen.
The Opportunity Mystery
The mystery deepens when we consider what happened to the Mars Exploration Rover mission. Two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, were launched in 2003 and landed on Mars in 2004. As expected, the solar panels became covered in dust and quit working. But one day, they suddenly were clean and charging normally. No-one understood why, but the surprise cleaning continued to happen, and the rovers worked for about 60 times longer than they had been expected to!
Electricity Plays a Role?
Most of the planet-engulfing dust storms happen when there are major electrical storms on the sun. The solar activity connection is something we need to keep looking into. If it is found to be an essential factor in Martian weather, it means we are wrong about the climate on Earth because no model takes electricity into account.
One thing is sure: We don’t understand the climate on Mars, a much simpler planet than Earth. This means we might not understand our own climate as well as we think.