NASA's Opportunity Rover Hit By Enormous Dust Storm On Mars

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The valley and surrounding region have been shrouded by an intensifying dust storm over the last several days.

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.

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

NASA's Mars rover, Opportunity has ceased all its science operations and is reportedly waiting for the massive storm to pass away and clear skies to appear.

Opportunity uses solar panels to convert sunlight into energy and power its batteries, but over these days, it couldn't get the required light to stay up and running.

The Martian dust storm was first spotted from space by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA officials said. Air conditions are similar to "an extremely smoggy day", as a result, NASA says. On June 6th, the power levels of the Rover seems to have a major drop, and it forced to stop all the science experiments to conserve power. Faced with dwindling power reserves and no recharge in sight, the JPL team running the rover opted to put it into minimal operations mode.

Dust storms on Mars are a well known phenomenon but are infrequent.

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"It's not unlike running a vehicle in the winter so that the cold doesn't sap its battery charge", NASA writes in a release.

The main concern NASA has with this kind of tempest is that the rover's batteries will get too cold and it won't be able to function once the dust storm ends. 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 dust storm, meanwhile, is now not affecting the Curiosity rover, which was the subject of NASA's recent press conference. Despite this, both rovers have vastly exceeded expectations: they were only created to last 90 days each.

NASA's Opportunity rover has survived on Mars much longer than originally intended, but the planet is testing the little robot right now. On Mars, dust storms can crop up suddenly, NASA said in a statement, but it could take weeks or even months for them to subside.

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

"Soon after orbiter team realised how close storm was coming to Opportunity, rover's team were made aware of this, and they started making a plan to cope up with this uncertain event", said one of the NASA official. The updrafts of dust can trigger more winds, triggering a feedback loop that fuels the birth of a dust storm.

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