Published: Wed, June 13, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Huge Dust Storm on Mars suspends NASA’s Rover operation

Huge Dust Storm on Mars suspends NASA’s Rover operation

As a result, NASA has had to suspend the duties of the rover, with scientists unsure of how long it would take for Opportunity to start working fully again. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey and MAVEN orbiters all routinely support Opportunity's operations on the ground and communication back to Earth via the Deep Space Network. Science operations remain suspended. However, here the storm could actually help - the dust that blocks out the Sun's rays also absorbs heat, which raises the ambient temperature around the rover.

But Opportunity has survived adverse weather events in the past.

"The previous storm had an opacity level, or tau, somewhere above 5.5; this new storm had an estimated tau of 10.8 as of Sunday morning". The valley and surrounding region have been shrouded by an intensifying dust storm over the last several days.

"Engineers will monitor the rover's power levels closely in the week to come", NASA officials said. Part of the equipment onboard is a survival heater system, which kick in to keep the batteries at a certain temperature rather than allowing them to get unduly cold.

The rover has proved hardier than expected by lasting almost 15 years, despite being designed for a 90-day mission.

An enormous dust storm on Mars has suspended NASA's exploration rover Opportunity from conducting scientific work, the US space agency said Sunday in a statement.

As per a statement by NASA officials, they said that when they have spotted the storm, they notified the rover's team to get prepared for the contingency plans and in some days the storm has ballooned.

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

Moreso, the storm's atmospheric opacity - the veil of dust which blots out sunlight - is now much worse than the 2007 storm that Opportunity weathered.

And this is a problem - unlike Curiosity, which launched later with a nuclear generator, Opportunity relies on solar panels for power, and batteries for storage.

"It's not unlike running a auto in the winter so that the cold doesn't sap its battery charge", NASA writes in a release. Conducting research is pretty tough with dust and debris flying around, but being caught in the storm isn't just a bummer from a scientific standpoint; Opportunity's power comes from batteries linked to solar panels, and those solar panels don't work well when the skies aren't clear. It's unclear when the storm will eventually subside, but even if the storm ultimately doomed Opportunity it would have already vastly outlived its original mission.

"The question of whether life might have originated or existed on Mars is a lot more opportune now that we know that organic molecules were present on its surface at that time".

"This is a significant breakthrough because it means there are organic materials preserved in some of the harshest environments on Mars", said lead author of one of two studies in Science, Jennifer Eigenbrode, an astrobiologist at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Centre. However, they can develop seemingly overnight and last weeks, even months.

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