NASA rover knocked out as gigantic dust storm envelops Mars

NASA's Curiosity Rover Is Tracking a Huge Dust Storm on Mars

"Keep in mind, we're talking about a rover that's been working at Mars, hanging in there, for 15 years and designed just for 90 days".

However, a few weeks ago, NASA received distributing news that potentially posed a threat to the "little rover that could". As of June 10, it covered more than 15.8 million square miles (41 million square kilometers) - about the area of North America and Russian Federation combined. Luckily, NASA has since made contact with the rover, which is encouraging sign.

NASA's Curiosity rover is keeping tabs on the huge Martian dust storm that has sidelined its older cousin on the other side of the planet. "The storm, which was first detected on May 30, now blankets 14 million square miles (35 million square kilometers) of Martian surface-a quarter of the planet". The final frame, on the right, is a simulation based on the rover's data. Engineers will monitor the rover's power levels closely in the week to come.

Launched from Cape Canaveral on July 7, 2003, Opportunity landed on the red planet five-and-a-half months later, on January 24, 2004, three weeks after a twin rover, Spirit, bounced to an airbag-cushioned landing on the other side of the planet.

Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has been delivering science from the surface of the Red Planet for over 14 years now - an unbelievable accomplishment for a robot that was only intended for an initial 90 day mission.

As of June 12, the tau value for Opportunity's dust storm was estimated at almost 11! While the rover does have batteries, it's primarily solar-powered, and it's now enveloped in what NASA calls "a dark, perpetual night".

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Whereas the previous storm had an opacity level (tau) of about 5.5, this new storm has an estimated tau of 10.8.

"If the rover's computer determines that its batteries don't have enough charge, it will again put itself back to sleep", NASA officials said. This latest transmission also showed that the rover's temperature had reached about -29 °C (-20 °F).

Full dust storms like this and the one that took place in 2007 are rare, but not surprising. That's of concern. The problem isn't the dust, but the darkness it creates. That wind kicks up yet more dust, creating a feedback loop that NASA scientists are still trying to understand. Such storms last for weeks, sometimes months, but stop when the air temperatures equalize. "The same swirling dust that blocks out sunlight also absorbs heat, raising the ambient temperature surrounding Opportunity". Without sunlight, the rover can not recharge its batteries, which it needs for operations.

In the meantime, Opportunity's science operations remain suspended and the Opportunity team has requested additional communications coverage from NASA's Deep Space Network - the global system of antennas that communicates with all of the agency's deep space missions.

In the meantime, the rover must endure freezing overnight temperatures, putting thermal stress on Opportunity's internal components.

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