NASA’s Mars ‘Opportunity’ Rover May Be Lost in Massive Dust Storm


"We need to consider the risks associated with these dust storms when designing future missions to Mars, not only in sizing their power sources (if they are solar powered), but also in terms of how the dust atmospheric heating changes the thickness of the atmosphere when the lander is coming down to the surface and expecting a certain air density to slow it down".

Engineers last received a transmission from the 15-year-old Opportunity on Sunday morning. The Space Agency believes that the rover's batteries have reached a critically low level which would signal it to turn everything off except the mission clock.

NASA says the Martian dust storm has "blotted" out the view of the sun from the rover, which uses solar panels to provide power and to recharge its batteries.

"We have a historic number of spacecraft operating at the Red Planet", Watzin said in a statement. However, the current storm is twice as opaque as the 2007 one, providing even less marginal sunlight.

This current storm is "unprecedented in the pace at which it has grown and spread across the globe", said Rich Zurek, chief scientist for the Mars Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

NASA's two orbiters, the 2001 Mars Odyssey and MAVEN, can help scientists observe the storms growth and movements from above, as well as measure the levels of dust in the atmosphere. They can quickly balloon into regional storms, and sometimes expand to engulf the entire planet.

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A record dust storm has been swirling on Mars for almost two weeks.

Mars features a very thin atmosphere that is conducive to dust storms. As stated by John Callas of the NASA JPL in Pasadena, California, "we are anxious, but we hope the storm will break and the rover will communicate with us again". "That would be like forecasting El Niño events on Earth, or the severity of upcoming hurricane seasons". These full-scale events are estimated to occur about once every three to four Mars years (six to eight Earth years), and can last up to weeks or even months.

The unusually severe dust storm has blocked out the Sun over a quarter of the Red Planet, blanketing an area spanning 35 million sq km, Nasa explained on Wednesday.

When the storm struck, Opportunity was tooling around near a channel to see if it might have been created by flowing water, wind erosion, or something else.

This graphic shows the ongoing contributions of NASA's rovers and orbiters during a Martian dust storm that began on May 30, 2018. But it could take several more days before anyone can tell whether the storm is encircling the planet.