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NASA shows what really happens in Martian dust storms

Matt Damon will be facing off against some massive dust storms in the up-coming film "The Martian", but NASA claims there isn't much to worry about in real life.

The upcoming space adventure “The Martian” is looking like it could enjoy some out of this world box office numbers, having already secured positive reviews and starring A-lister Matt Damon. The premise of the movie is pretty simple, a massive dust storm strands an astronaut (Matt Damon) on Mars, but could this happen in real life?

At first glance the premise seems realistic. After all, Mars is home to some rather infamous “global” dust storms, but the reality on the ground is something different all together. According to NASA, the dust storms on Mars are actually pretty mild compared to conditions on Earth. Sure, the storms are big but it turns out that they are not very intense.

In “The Martian” a dust storm sweeps through the astronauts’ camp, forcing several astronauts to abandon Mars. The story’s main character Mark Watney, however, is left stranded on the surface of the planet (note: this synopsis is based on the book, which could be different from the yet-to-be-released film).

Yet in real life the winds of Martian dust storms rarely reach more than 60 miles per hour, which is pretty mild by Earth standards, where hundred mile per hour winds aren’t all too uncommon, especially during major weather disturbances.

The atmospheric pressure on Mars is not nearly as strong as it is on Earth. This means it doesn’t take much to kick up dust, and it also restrains how fast winds will generally blow.

As a result, it’s highly unlikely that future astronauts on Mars will ever face dust storms powerful enough to destroy equipment. Sure, astronauts might be forced to bunker down when the blinding storms hit, but they likely won’t be stranded.

It’s possible that dust could interfere in other ways, knocking out communications, clogging up equipment, and interfering with sensors. Almost certainly, however, the space equipment sent to Mars will be designed to counter such risks.