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NASA’s Opportunity Rover is Battling a Massive Dust Storm on Mars

NASA's Opportunity rover halted over Martian dust storm

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Woman Sues NASA Over Keeping Moon Dust Gifted to Her by Neil Armstrong. Pixabay
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NASA’s Opportunity rover’s science operations have been temporarily suspended as it waits out a growing dust storm on Mars, the US space agency said in a statement.

First detected by NASA on June 1, the storm ballooned to more than 18 million square.km and included the Opportunity’s current location at Perseverance Valley in the Red Planet by June 8.

The swirling dust has raised the atmospheric opacity, or “tau”, — the veil of dust blowing around, which can blot out sunlight — in the valley in the past few days.

As the rover uses solar panels to provide power and to recharge its batteries, the rover was required to shift to minimal operations.

The storm’s atmospheric opacity is now much worse than a 2007 storm that Opportunity weathered. 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 morning on June 10.

Despite the worsening dust storm, Opportunity also sent a transmission to NASA engineers on the same day, the report said.

Data from the transmission let engineers know the rover still has enough battery charge to communicate with ground controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

However, still science operations remain suspended, the report said.

Mars
Mars. Pixabay

Opportunity’s team has also 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 latest data transmission showed the rover’s temperature to be about minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 degrees Celsius).

Engineers will monitor the rover’s power levels closely in the week to come. The rover needs to balance low levels of charge in its battery with sub-freezing temperatures.

Its heaters are vitally important to keeping it alive, but also draw more power from the battery. Likewise, performing certain actions draws on battery power, but can actually expel energy and raise the rover’s temperature.

Also Read: NASA to Hold Announcement About New Discovery on Mars

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

Full dust storms though one are not surprising, but are infrequent. They can crop up suddenly but last weeks, even months.

During southern summer, sunlight warms dust particles, lifting them higher into the atmosphere and creating more wind.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and two other NASA spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet –Odyssey and MAVEN — routinely support rovers on the ground. (IANS)

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NASA’s Curiosity Rover Captures Images of Martian Dust Storm

The last storm of global magnitude that enveloped Mars was in 2007, five years before Curiosity landed there

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NASA image.
NASA's Curiosity Rover Captures Images of Martian Dust Storm. Pixabay

With NASA engineers yet to make contact with the Opportunity Mars rover due to a massive storm on the Red Planet, scientists are pinning their hopes on learning more about Martian dust storms from images captured by the Curiosity probe.

As of Tuesday morning, the Martian dust storm had grown in size and was officially a “planet-encircling” (or “global”) dust event, NASA said in a statement on Wednesday.

Though Curiosity is on the other side of Mars from Opportunity, dust has steadily increased over it, more than doubling over the weekend, NASA said.

The US space agency said the Curiosity Rover this month used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to snap photos of the intensifying haziness of the surface of Mars caused by the massive dust storm.

For NASA’s human scientists watching from the ground, Curiosity offers an unprecedented window to answer some questions. One of the biggest: Why do some Martian dust storms last for months and grow massive, while others stay small and last only a week?

“We don’t have any good idea,” said Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Mars Rover
Mars Rover, Pixabay

Curiosity, he pointed out, plus a fleet of spacecraft in the orbit of Mars, will allow scientists for the first time to collect a wealth of dust information both from the surface and from space.

The last storm of global magnitude that enveloped Mars was in 2007, five years before Curiosity landed there.

The current storm has starkly increased dust at Gale Crater, where the Curiosity rover is studying the storm’s effects from the surface.

But it poses little risk to the Curiosity rover, said Curiosity’s engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Also Read: NASA Plans To Install An Instrument To Monitor Plant Water Use

However, there was still no signal from the Opportunity rover, although a recent analysis of the rover’s long-term survivability in Mars’ extreme cold suggests Opportunity’s electronics and batteries can stay warm enough to function.

Regardless, the project does not expect to hear from Opportunity until the skies begin to clear over the rover.

The dust storm is comparable in scale to a similar storm observed by Viking I in 1977, but not as big as the 2007 storm that Opportunity previously weathered. (IANS)