In NASA announced a giant sandstorm on Mars

Mindy Sparks
June 13, 2018

It was during that 2007 storm that Opportunity's handlers anxious about the rover's ability to power its vital survival heaters with the low power levels caused by that dust storm. Dust storms can block out the sun for days, making it near impossible for the rover to recharge. They've also discovered seasonal changes in methane happening in the Martian atmosphere. "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 says the dust storm's effect is "comparable to an extremely smoggy day that blots out sunlight". As stated by the officials of the US space agency, "Full dust storms like this one are not surprising, but are infrequent".

According to NASA, as of Friday (June 8), storm covers over 18 million square kilometres of Mars.

NASA noticed a significant drop in the rover's power levels on June 6, and has entered crisis mode. The estimate for this current storm is somewhere around 10.8. NASA will carefully monitor Opportunity's power levels as the storm continues. This type of dust storms on Mars is not surprising, and they can last for weeks to months. "That wind kicks up yet more dust, creating a feedback loop that NASA scientists still seek to understand". It has covered Perseverance Valley, where Opportunity is now located, and has blotted out the sunlight.

The 2007 storm reached a maximum of 5.5 tau. The higher that number climbs, the worse the situation becomes for Opportunity. It's now been puttering away up there for 14 years.

Opportunity's team has requested additional communications coverage from NASA's Deep Space Network, a global system of antennas that talks to all the agency's deep space probes.

The temperature in Perseverance Valley, the rover's current location, is around -20 degrees F (-29 degrees C). The rover has now been shifted to minimal operations in a bid to conserve energy, while still providing just enough electricity to run its heaters.

Engineers are closely monitoring its battery levels and temperature. The team handling the operations thought it won't be able to maintain a balance between low power and energy-intensive heaters created to protect its batteries from the Martian cold. Without the heaters, the rover's batteries would likely fail and doom the mission. Working on Mars since the year 2004, the NASA Opportunity rover has faced a similar condition in the year 2007 when a dust storm even bigger than the present one had covered the planet and forced the Opportunity to cease its activities for around 2 weeks. The Mars Curiosity rover has found new evidence that was preserved in Martian rocks that indicates that ancient life may have been possible.

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