Mars Opportunity rover is in danger of dying from a dust storm

Huge Dust Storm on Mars Sidelines NASA's Opportunity Rover

Huge Dust Storm on Mars Sidelines NASA's Opportunity Rover

"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 said. During the time, the rover stopped phoning in to NASA to save power, defying NASA scientists who had anxious if the rover would be able to power its vital survival heaters with the low power levels caused by that dust storm.

As of June 10, the storm had almost doubled the level of atmospheric opacity, or darkness, experienced by the rover in 2007, measured in tau. The 2007 storm produced a tau value of 5.5, while the current storm has already produced a tau of 10.8. The rover was only created to last 90 days, yet here we are more than a decade later, a still-functioning Opportunity on Mars.

Despite the successful transmission, NASA says that all science operations remain suspended for the rover.

The huge dust storm was spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter last week and by Friday it covered more than seven million square miles, an area larger than North America, NASA reported.

Having said that, scientists hope that Opportunity can sustain the Martian dust storm because it has seen worst days.

In an update on Sunday, June 10th, NASA offered some reassuring news, saying that Opportunity had managed to send a brief message home earlier in the day despite the increasing peril. It's now been puttering away up there for 14 years.

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Finding methane in the atmosphere and ancient carbon preserved on the surface gives scientists confidence that NASA's Mars 2020 rover and ESA's (European Space Agency's) ExoMars rover will find even more organics, both on the surface and in the shallow subsurface.

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 rover has now been shifted to minimal operations in a bid to conserve energy, while still providing just enough electricity to run its heaters.

All the same, there are perils involved: the rover can't stay powered-down forever. On June 7, the rover's power levels dropped appreciably.

Despite limited sunlight to charge its battery, Opportunity also needs to deal with sub-freezing temperatures on Mars. Its heaters are vitally important to keeping it alive, but also draw more power from the battery. "The Martian cold is believed to have resulted in the loss of (the NASA rover) Spirit, Opportunity's twin in the Mars Exploration Rover mission, back in 2010".

Although the surface of Mars is inhospitable to known forms of life today, there is evidence that in the distant past, the Martian climate allowed the presence of liquid water - an essential ingredient for life - at the surface.

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