In the movie, The Martian (as shown by the trailer), a Martian Dust storm wreaks havoc on the site, throwing a satellite dish at Mark Watney. It is similar in the book, where the strong wind nearly tips over the launch vehicle.

Given that the Martian atmosphere is only 1% of Earth's atmosphere, is the force of wind realistic?

I don't doubt that the wind can kick up a lot of dust, covering solar panels and anything else. But I question if the wind can be strong enough to move heavy objects. Is there some aspect I'm overlooking?

closed as off-topic by calccrypto, Jason Baker, Ward, Often Right, KutuluMike Jun 23 '15 at 1:31

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  • Dupe of space.stackexchange.com/questions/2621/… – user16696 Jun 22 '15 at 23:23
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    @cde: I don't think you can dupe a question to an entirely difference site! – abelenky Jun 22 '15 at 23:32
  • It being a duplicate is better than the wrongly off topic closes it already has. This question directly related to A work of fiction. – user16696 Jun 23 '15 at 1:21
  • it actually doesn't. it's asking if a work of fiction is realistic based on read-world science. That's explicitly off-topic: what happens in a work of fiction, is, by definition, accurate in that universe. unfortunately we can't directly dupe-link it to another site :( – KutuluMike Jun 23 '15 at 1:30
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    @michael exactly. This question is the "unless" in that close reason. – user16696 Jun 23 '15 at 1:59

According to Wikipedia,

...during a global dust storm the diurnal temperature range narrowed sharply, from fifty degrees to only about ten degrees, and the wind speeds picked up considerably—indeed, within only an hour of the storm's arrival they had increased to 17 m/s (61 km/h), with gusts up to 26 m/s (94 km/h).

Another source claims that,

Typical wind speeds in the Martian atmosphere exceed 200 km/hr (or 125 miles/hr). Gusts can often reach 500 to 600 km/hr (or 300-375 miles/hr).

However, (again from Wikipedia)...

The low density of the Martian atmosphere means that winds of 18 to 22 m/s (65 to 79 km/h) are needed to lift dust from the surface.

I haven't done the math, but I doubt that 500 km/h could toss a person around, if 65 km/h can barely toss dust around. So basically, it seems like this is a narrative device, just like the Earth-normal gravity they seem to be portraying, when Mars barely has 1/3 of Earth's gravity.

That being said, it does appear to be an unusually intense storm, in-universe. Even if storms of that power aren't normal in the real world, I doubt they're impossible. This book/movie simply features one of those rare occurrences.

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    Actually Andy Weir has done the maths. It is impossible for Martian winds to pick up a sat dish, let alone tip the MAV. Go watch his interviews, he describes the wind as having the inertia to feel like a gentle breeze. – Aron Oct 6 '15 at 16:36

At the end of the book Andy Weir explains that he tried to make everything as scientifically accurate as possible however the storm was pretty much the only thing that wasn't, but he needed it to get the story going.

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    Secondary source - If you listen to the Andy Weir interview on the podcast Triangulation, he also says this... that specifically this storm that sparks the plot is nearly impossible, scientifically, with what we know about Mars. – Vogie Oct 1 '15 at 13:36
  • [citation needed] – Möoz May 2 '16 at 5:51

The wind speed can be quite high, but the amount of destruction we see in the trailer you linked to is unrealistic. From an answer to a similar question on the Space SE:

According to the Mars-One webpage What are the risks of dust and sand on Mars?, that even though the wind speeds of the dust storms can be quite high - hurricane force, due to the far thinner atmosphere (1% of Earth), it would feel like a slight breeze.

Mars is dusty, with dust storms that can cover the planet (rarely), and

Airborne dust on Mars is about as fine as cigarette smoke. Particle abrasion will be limited due to the small size of the particles.

There is another side effect of a dust storm, particularly, a large one, is that, according to the NASA page The Perfect Dust Storm Strikes Mars causes significant atmospheric heating (up to 80F) - so thermal effects need to be considered.

The fine dust in the storms will pose another problem according to Future Mars Explorers Face Dusty Challenges (Mosher, 2007), is that it would electrostatically attach to everything, with

"If you walk through, pick up or simply touch the dust, it would gather charge and stick to you. We've already seen this on the rovers' wheels," said Geoffrey Landis, a physicist with the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. "Things get even more interesting when winds come by and separate the charge."

and that, as the air is dry on Mars, the charge can build and potentially arc, damaging sensitive electronics if not properly shielded.

But more information and studies would be needed to fully determine the effects of the Martian dust.

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