Dust aerosol, clouds, and the atmospheric optical depth record over 5 Mars years of the Mars Exploration Rover mission

Mark T. Lemmon, Michael J. Wolff, James F. Bell, Michael D. Smith, Bruce A. Cantor, Peter Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

78 Scopus citations


Dust aerosol plays a fundamental role in the behavior and evolution of the martian atmosphere. The first five Mars years of Mars Exploration Rover data provide an unprecedented record of the dust load at two sites. This record is useful for characterization of the atmosphere at the sites and as ground truth for orbital observations. Atmospheric extinction optical depths have been derived from solar images after calibration and correction for time-varying dust that has accumulated on the camera windows. The record includes local, regional, and globally extensive dust storms. Comparison with contemporaneous thermal infrared data suggests significant variation in the size of the dust aerosols, with a 1μm effective radius during northern summer and a 2μm effective radius at the onset of a dust lifting event. The solar longitude (LS) 20-136° period is also characterized by the presence of cirriform clouds at the Opportunity site, especially near LS = 50° and 115°. In addition to water ice clouds, a water ice haze may also be present, and carbon dioxide clouds may be present early in the season. Variations in dust opacity are important to the energy balance of each site, and work with seasonal variations in insolation to control dust devil frequency at the Spirit site.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)96-111
Number of pages16
StatePublished - May 1 2015



  • Atmospheres, composition
  • Mars, atmosphere
  • Meteorology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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