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A Powerful Dust Storm Has Darkened the Skies Over Opportunity on Mars

14 June 2018

The Opportunity rover was knocked out by the dust clouds as that has gripped the Red Planet.

This is one of the most intense storms ever observed on Mars, NASA said.

A massive dust storm raging across Mars has overcome NASA's aging Opportunity rover, putting the unmanned, solar-powered vehicle into sleep mode and raising concerns about its survival, the USA space agency said Wednesday.

While the rover sent a transmission down to Earth on Sunday, the storm has intensified in recent days bringing "a dark, perpetual night over the rover's location", NASA said in a statement. Astronauts living on Mars, for instance, wouldn't want to get caught outside in a fierce dust storm, where winds can reach 70 mph (113 kilometers per hour) - nearly hurricane force.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - A NASA rover on Mars has fallen silent as a big dust storm envelops the planet and blots out the sun.

The nuclear-powered Curiosity Mars rover, operating in Gale Crater well away from Opportunity, is not expected to be impacted by the current storm. The storm could actually become a global tempest in the days to come, according to NASA.

In an update posted on June 12, NASA said that its Opportunity team had attempted to contact the rover but, unfortunately, didn't get a response back.

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The clock will regularly wake an onboard computer to check power levels. "It's in its low-power mode, and it'll remain in that low-power mode until there's sufficient energy to charge the batteries back above a certain threshold", Callas said during the press conference. Over time the dust clouds grow to encompass entire regions, and those regional storms can combine to form globe-engulfing weather events.

By Wednesday, June 6th, Opportunity's power levels had dropped significantly and the rover was required to shift to minimal operations. At this rate, NASA says it will probably take at least a week before there's adequate levels of sunlight to recharge.

It also showed the rover's temperature to be around -29C. Opportunity, however, has kept exploring well past its expected mission lifetime.

NASA launched the twin rovers Opportunity and Spirit in 2003 to study Martian rocks and soil. "When the skies clear and the rover begins to power up, it should begin to communicate with us", Callas said, expressing confidence that Opportunity will not be buried in dust. "We are listening every day for possible signals from the rover", he said, likening the atmosphere among colleagues to having a loved one lying in a coma.

"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". "They can crop up suddenly but last weeks, even months". Without them, there's a chance that Opportunity could drop below the temperature at which critical components would fail. Assuming Opportunity rides out this storm, its photovoltaic panels are still producing power (and were somewhat oversized to start with), and it's got what Callas referred to as "the finest batteries in the Solar System", which are capable of holding 85 percent of their original capacity after all these years.

Scientists said the swirling dust has created an extreme smog that blots out sunlight. We don't now know what causes one of these storms to go global or why this one in particular seemed to strengthen at an unusual place.

A Powerful Dust Storm Has Darkened the Skies Over Opportunity on Mars