NASA Rover knocked out as giant dust storm engulfs Mars

NASA Rover knocked out as giant dust storm engulfs Mars

First detected by NASA on June 1, the storm ballooned to more than 18 million square.km and included the Opportunity's current location at Perseverance Valley in the Red Planet by June 8. The storm is now about 10 billion acres in size, which is enough to cover North America and Russian Federation, or more than one-quarter of Mars.

NASA's Opportunity rover's science operations have been temporarily suspended as it waits out a growing dust storm on Mars, the U.S. space agency said in a statement.

NASA is now listening constantly for any communication from the rover, but that won't happen until the storm clears.

Cold, desolate Mars, with its thin atmosphere and desert conditions, is prone to dust storms that can last months.

NASA's Curiosity rover - the agency's other functioning rover on Mars - is also seeing some haze in the atmosphere due to the dust storm, but it isn't experiencing any ill effects from the storm, NASA said.

Scientists aren't almost as concerned about the newer, nuclear-powered Curiosity rover on the other side of Mars, which is already seeing darkening skies. The storm could actually become a global tempest in the days to come, according to NASA.

Last night Nasa detailed how a real example of such a enormous natural event left their solar-powered rover Opportunity uncontactable and in danger. In that case, the computer is programmed to periodically check to see if the sun is up and if so, to phone home.

"Our expectation at this point is that the rover has gone to sleep, it's in this low-power mode, and that it will remain in that low-power mode until there is sufficient energy to charge the batteries back above a certain threshold", Callas added. NASA reported on June 10 that the Mars dust storm was getting worse.

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Over the weekend, NASA declared a spacecraft emergency for its remarkably durable rover Opportunity. If the charge dips too low, the rover won't know what time it is, though there are systems in place to deal with that. In 2007, just a few years into its extended mission, a planetary dust storm blocked the sun for two weeks, during which time the craft stopped responding as well.

"We think we can ride this out for a while", Callas said. Without them, there's a chance that Opportunity could drop below the temperature at which critical components would fail.

"We have a very tight emotional connection with the rover; it's like having a loved one in a coma", he said. "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.

"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".

The storm is one of the most intense ever observed on the Red Planet. This is a problem because the rover uses solar panels to provide its power and recharge its batteries. The rover is created to operate in temperatures as low as -55 Centigrade (-67 in Freedom units).

Engineers are also concerned that freezing temperatures caused by the storm could damage the rover, as cold is thought to be what led to the breakdown of NASA's Spirit rover - Opportunity's twin - in 2010.

As of June 12, the tau value for Opportunity's dust storm was estimated at almost 11!

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