NASA Rover 'Opportunity' Threatened by Massive Dust Storm on Mars

NASA NASA Opportunity rover Opportunity rover Mars rover NASA Mars rover Mars dust storm Martian dust storm Opportunity rover contact lost

It was first detected on May 30, and now covers a quarter of the planet, or more than 15.8 million square miles.

Because dust storms can alter the Martian landscape, shaping the surface's rocks and sediment, understanding the storms' dynamics is essential to understanding the Red Planet's geological history. It is engulfed by an escalating dust storm, where fine particles of dust as fine as talcum powder cloud so thickly that obstruct Sun.

John Callas, a project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, adds up that, the team working for Opportunity has a stronger bond and an emotional attachment to it.

"We think we can ride this out for a while", Callas said. The most recently recorded storm was in 2007.

NASA officials announced on June 13 that they were suspending science operations for the rover due to the week-and-a-half long storm, instead using four other spacecrafts to learn about the Mars climate from the swirling dust.

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An unprecedented sandstorm on Mars is threatening the survival of NASA's solar-powered Opportunity rover, the U.S. space agency has announced. "That would be like forecasting El Niño events on Earth, or the severity of upcoming hurricane seasons".

NASA has another rover on Mars as well as two flying probes that are equipped with specialized equipment that will send data back to Earth.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has a special role, acting as an early warning system for weather events such as the recent storm. Ultimately, the storm subsided and Opportunity prevailed. The storm has created so much dust that it has blocked nearly all sunlight, which means the rover is stuck in night-like conditions for the moment. In 1971, one of these storms came close, leaving just the peaks of Mars' Tharsis volcanoes poking out above the dust.

"We need to consider the risks associated with these dust storms when designing future missions to Mars, not only in sizing their power sources (if they are solar powered), but also in terms of how the dust atmospheric heating changes the thickness of the atmosphere when the lander is coming down to the surface and expecting a certain air density to slow it down". It could take several more days before it is known whether the storm is encircling the entire planet. The engineers fear that the rover may end up there without completing its mission.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the MAVEN project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The THEMIS investigation is led by Philip Christensen at Arizona State University.

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