NASA Rover knocked out as giant dust storm engulfs Mars

NASA Rover knocked out as giant dust storm engulfs Mars

The storm's atmospheric opacity - the veil of dust blowing around, which can blot out sunlight - is now much worse than a 2007 storm that Opportunity weathered. It is basically a sort of hibernation mode that the rover goes into under intense duress.

The Martian cold is believed to be what resulted in the loss of the Spirit rover in 2010, Opportunity's counterpart in the Mars Exploration Rover mission.

As NPR has reported, the aging Opportunity rover has had problems with its memory banks for several years. The storm has been growing since the end of May and now covers one-quarter of the planet. Therefore, it would be able to keep its operations and equipment up and running if the storm will get in its position.

"The project team is very concerned, ' Callas told reporters, adding that a 'spacecraft emergency" has been declared.

"It's like you have a loved one in a coma in the hospital", he explained. You just have to wait it out. But if it's your 97-year-old grandmother, you're going to be very concerned.

"By no means are we out of the woods here", he says.

However, the storm can last a long time.

One saving grace of dust storms is that they can actually limit the extreme temperature swings experienced on the Martian surface.

NASA is hosting a livestreamed teleconference at 1:30 p.m. EDT, on June 13, to answer questions about the rover and this dust storm.

NASA has revealed that the storm is now covering about 41 million square kilometers (roughly 15.8 million square miles), in the conditions that the Mars surface is approximately 145 million square kilometers.

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It was trying to establish whether the valley had been sculpted by water or wind erosion, or both.

In an update published on YouTube, NASA stated that Opportunity did not respond to a direct attempt at contact.

Since last Wednesday, Opportunity has been operating in low-power mode, hunkering down and suspending all operations except for periodic system checks. Thus, this giant dust storm on Mars represents a danger to it. Opportunity was created to operate for at least 90 days on Mars.

Scientists aren't almost as concerned about the newer, nuclear-powered Curiosity rover on the other side of Mars, which is already seeing darkening skies.

This latest data transmission showed the rover's temperature to be about minus 29 degrees Celsius. Should its power run down entirely, the rover's "survival heaters" will stop working, leaving it vulnerable to the cold. "As we work to pave the way for when human explorers arrive, it will be essential that we learn to monitor and hopefully predict these storms in order to help ensure the safety of the crew".

So, in sum, the rover is likely to remain inactive for weeks and months, but people are expecting that it will announce its return to activity once the dust storm has cleared.

Opportunity's handlers will be sweating out the rover's slumber, no matter how long it lasts. This storm, Zurek said, should die out before that landing, although there is a chance a second storm could later form. Two days later, as the storm intensified and spread, energy levels had dropped to 345 watt hours and the day after, to 133.

The mission scientists are intrigued: Why do these massive widespread events happen in some years but not all?

Scientists consider this good news because the main threat that the rover now faces is death by freezing.

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