Intense massive Mars storm has forced NASA to suspend the Opportunity rover’s science work. The agency has to wait now as the storms don’t go away so fast.
Scientists predict that the storm could last months.
The Martian dust storm was first spotted from space by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA officials said.
“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,” NASA officials said in a statement. “In a matter of days, the storm had ballooned.”
The dust storm has already covered the Perseverance Valley, which is where NASA’s Opportunity rover is stationed. In the days to come, the dust storm may expand further.
According to a release from the agency, on June 8, the storm has spanned more than North America. Thus, covering a whopping 7 million square miles (18 million square kilometers) area on the planet.
“Full dust storms like this one are not surprising but are infrequent. They can crop up suddenly but last weeks, even months,” NASA said in the statement.
The Martian storms can start out of nowhere and continue for days or maybe 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,” the agency said in the statement.
Opportunity has been exploring Mars since 2004, but the rover runs on solar power. So, with the dust storm clogging up the sky, the amount of sunlight the rover uses to recharge has dropped.
Opportunity Rover Experienced Another Storm in the Past
However, this is not the first time opportunity rover has to deal with bad weather. In 2007, a much larger storm covered the planet. That forced Opportunity to minimize its operations for two weeks. Therefore, including several days with no contact from the rover to save power.
The team handling the operations lost their hopes on being able to maintain a balance between low power and energy-intensive heaters designed to protect its batteries from the Martian cold. But the skies cleared up and Opportunity survived. NASA has designed Opportunity to last 90 days. However, the rover has operated more than 50 times longer than NASA originally planned.