Tags: mars | rover | dust storm

Mars Rover Hunkers Down in Massive Dust Storm

Mars Rover Hunkers Down in Massive Dust Storm

Global map of Mars shows dust storm sweeping across the landscape. The blue dot near the center shows Opportunity's location. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

By    |   Monday, 11 June 2018 11:23 AM

The Mars rover Opportunity was hunkered down as a massive dust storm forced the robotic trailblazer to halt its scientific work on the Red Planet. NASA hopes the shutdown will be only temporary.

The huge dust storm was spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter last week and by Friday it covered more than seven million square miles, an area larger than North America, NASA reported.

"As soon as the orbiter team saw how close the storm was to Opportunity, they notified the rover's team to begin preparing contingency plans," said NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "In a matter of days, the storm had ballooned."

"… More importantly, the swirling dust has raised the atmospheric opacity, or 'tau,' in the valley in the past few days. This is comparable to an extremely smoggy day that blots out sunlight. The rover uses solar panels to provide power and to recharge its batteries," NASA continued.

Space.com reported that NASA has already reported a drop in its power due to the storm blotting out the sun. There is a fear that if the rover's power stays down for too long, the Martian cold could damage Opportunity, which has been exploring Mars since 2004.

"Full dust storms like this one are not surprising, but are infrequent," NASA said. "They can crop up suddenly but last weeks, even months. During southern summer, sunlight warms dust particles, lifting them higher into the atmosphere and creating more wind. That wind kicks up yet more dust, creating a feedback loop that NASA scientists still seek to understand."

NASA said in 2007 a dust storm covering much of Mars led to Opportunity having to run two weeks on "minimal operations." The space agency even shut down its contact with Opportunity for two days to save on energy.

"Ultimately, the storm subsided and Opportunity prevailed," NASA said. "The Martian cold is believed to have resulted in the loss of (the NASA rover) Spirit, Opportunity's twin in the Mars Exploration Rover mission, back in 2010. Despite this, both rovers have vastly exceeded expectations: they were only designed to last 90 days each."

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The Mars rover Opportunity was hunkered down as a massive dust storm forced the robotic trailblazer to halt its scientific work on the Red Planet. NASA hopes the shutdown will be only temporary.
mars, rover, dust storm
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2018-23-11
Monday, 11 June 2018 11:23 AM
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