NASA’s Opportunity rover halted over Martian dust storm

The dark streak is from the impact destabilizing the ground.                  NASA  JPL  University of Arizona

Science operations were suspended on 8 June, but a transmission received at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, two days later showed the rover still had enough charge in its battery to phone home, a positive sign given the dust storm has been intensifying.

This series of images from NASA's Opportunity rover on Mars shows the effects of a huge dust storm blotting out the sun on the Red Planet in June 2018.

And there isn't any danger of the rover being buried by dust, although clearing it off once the storm subsides may be another challenge. 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.

NASA's long-lived Opportunity Mars rover is hunkering down to conserve power in a bid to weather a huge dust storm blanketing the red planet that has, in effect, turned day into night for the solar-powered robot.

The nuclear-powered Curiosity Mars rover, operating in Gale Crater well away from Opportunity, is not expected to be impacted by the current storm. Normally, these storms, which can grow to become planet-encircling, start out locally and pass the valley before growing.

There is no chance of Opportunity being buried or getting a wheel stuck in dust.

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Last night Nasa detailed how a real example of such a very big natural event left their solar-powered rover Opportunity uncontactable and in danger.

In low-power fault mode, Opportunity's master clock is programmed to wake up the flight computer periodically to check the battery charge but if it's not sufficient, the computer will put itself back to sleep and the clock will set another alarm to wake it back up for another check.

"Full dust storms like this one are not surprising, but are infrequent", according to a NASA statement.

Scientists think the power level in Opportunity's batteries is below 24 volts. At this rate, NASA says it will probably take at least a week before there's adequate levels of sunlight to recharge.

"We're all pulling for Opportunity, it has been a remarkable rover", he said.

NASA launched the twin rovers Opportunity and Spirit in 2003 to study Martian rocks and soil.

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The opacity of the storm, an indication of how effectively it is blocking out sunlight, is at record levels for Opportunity, making it hard for the rover's solar arrays to fully charge its batteries. If that temperature drops too low, Opportunity could lose its ability to operate.

One complication, he said, is if the rover's power drops low enough that it can not operate an onboard clock. "We're concerned, but we're hopeful that the storm will clear and the rover will begin to communicate with us", said Callas.

"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".

It weathered another storm in 2007, but that one wasn't this intense. However, since it made its landing on January 25th, 2004, it has remained in operation for 14 years, 4 months, and 18 days - exceeding its operating plan by a factor of 50!

Scientists said the swirling dust has created an extreme smog that blots out sunlight.

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