A massive dust storm on Mars has recently hit NASA's Opportunity Rover

13 June, 2018, 20:59 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • Artist's illustration of Opportunity

The storm quickly grew to cover over 7 million square miles (18 million square kilometers) and swept across Perseverance Valley where Opportunity is located.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which reached a milestone of its own previous year with its 50,000th orbit of the Red Planet, first detected the massive dust storm on June 1. Although this dust storm event is not shocking as it had occured previously, they do not frequently occur, once they occur they can last for even months. NASA says the dust storm's effect is "comparable to an extremely smoggy day that blots out sunlight".

Opportunity's original mission was expected to last just 90 days, but the rover is still operational almost 15 years later. The updrafts of dust can trigger more winds, triggering a feedback loop that fuels the birth of a dust storm.

The Opportunity rover uses solar panels for power and to recharge its batteries, and by June 6, its power levels had dropped significantly.

NASA's MER-B is threatened by vast dust storm that may put the Opportunity rover into vocational hazard.

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By Sunday night (10 June), the situation had worsened, with NASA noting that the dust storm had intensified in the past several days and that a dark, perpetual night has now settled over Opportunity's location. The map demonstrated the rising storm with a blue point depicting the location of the Opportunity rover. If the storm lasts too long, the main concern will be the Martian cold, a danger Opportunity has faced in the past, NASA officials said. The previous storm had an opacity level just above 5.5.

"Engineers will monitor the rover's power levels closely in the week to come", NASA officials said.

Despite limited sunlight to charge its battery, Opportunity also needs to deal with sub-freezing temperatures on Mars. NASA reports the latest data transmission showed that the rover had a temperature of minus 20, and that it has requested an extra hand from the Deep Space Network of antennas. The team handling the operations thought it won't be able to maintain a balance between low power and energy-intensive heaters created to protect its batteries from the Martian cold.

Finding methane in the atmosphere and ancient carbon preserved on the surface gives scientists confidence that NASA's Mars 2020 rover and ESA's (European Space Agency's) ExoMars rover will find even more organics, both on the surface and in the shallow subsurface. Without the heaters, the rover's batteries would likely fail and doom the mission.

Curiosity is a car-sized rover created to explore Gale crater as part of Nasa's Mars Science Laboratory mission.

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