Huge Dust Storm Strikes NASA’s Opportunity Rover

Posted: Jun 10 2018, 3:13pm CDT | by , Updated: Jun 10 2018, 3:21pm CDT, in Latest Science News


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Huge Dust Storm Strikes NASA’s Opportunity Rover
This global map of Mars shows a growing dust storm as of June 6, 2018. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

If the storm persists for too long Opportunity rover can get too cold and may not operate at all

NASA Opportunity rover’s operations have been halted due to a raging dust storm on Mars. The storm was detected on June 1 by using NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The dust storm has grown considerably since then and it now covers an area of 7 million square miles, including current location of Opportunity rover at Perseverance Valley.

Dust storms occur frequently on Mars and can transform into planet-encircling dust storms in a matter of days. These storms actively lift dust high into the atmosphere which in turn blocks sunlight. Rovers like Opportunity rely on sunlight to charge their solar panels and batteries. If the sunlight is blocked for an extended period, the rovers will not generate enough power to operate.

“There is a risk to the rover if the storm persists for too long and Opportunity gets too cold while waiting for the skies to clear.” NASA statement said.

NASA says that rover's power levels had dropped significantly by June 6, requiring it to be in a near-dormant state. When the storm was first detected, NASA notified the rover’s team to take proactive measures and protect Opportunity from storm.

This is not the first time that Opportunity is facing an intense dust storm. In 2007, a much bigger dust storm covered Mars. The storm lasted several days and blocked 99 percent of direct sunlight to the rover. As a result, the output from Opportunity's solar panels dropped to its lowest point and forced the rover to suspend its science operations. Ultimately, the storm ended and Opportunity got back to work.

NASA’s Opportunity rover landed on Mars in January 2004. Since then, it has been exploring Martian surface. The rover has been operated for more than 50 times longer than originally planned.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
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