NASA rover knocked out as very big dust storm envelops Mars

This series of images shows simulated views of a darkening Martian sky blotting out the Sun from NASA's Opportunity rover's point of view with the right side simulating Opportunity's current view in the global dust storm. The

NASA rover knocked out as very big dust storm envelops Mars

The almost 15-year-old rover launched in 2003 and has been exploring Mars since it landed in January 2004. As the rover uses solar panels to provide power and to recharge its batteries, the rover was required to shift to minimal operations.

Scientists think the power level in Opportunity's batteries is below 24 volts. By the following day, the opacity of the storm (a technical measure of how much light it blocks) had reached record levels, such that Opportunity's instruments could no longer measure it effectively. The storm is now about 10 billion acres in size, which is enough to cover North America and Russian Federation, or more than one-quarter of Mars. It's also important to note that Opportunity has dealt with long-term storms before and emerged unscathed. The solar-powered rover has been in operation for almost 15 years - but if its batteries dip below 24 volts of electrical charge, it's programmed to put almost all its systems into sleep mode and wait until the batteries are sufficiently charged up. But without the clock, some of these timers will wake it at night, and NASA won't know in advance when it will try to communicate. "So at this point, we're in a waiting mode, we're listening every day for possible signals from the rover". On Wednesday, NASA held a press conference to describe what was going on and explain why its scientists and engineers are optimistic that we'll hear more from the rover once the storm clears up. In that case, the computer is programmed to periodically check to see if the sun is up and if so, to phone home.

Artist's conception of a Mars Exploration Rover, which included Opportunity and Spirit. "When the skies clear and the rover begins to power up, it should begin to communicate with us".

Both landers were built to last at least three months in the harsh environment of Mars and while mission managers were hopeful they would exceed their design life, there were no guarantees. Although the rover now steers with two wheels instead of four and one of its arm joints is a bit creaky, it's currently exploring Perseverance Valley, a feature carved into the rim of Endeavor Crater. The solar-powered Opportunity has therefore temporarily ceased science operations.

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The rescue attempt scared the raccoon from MPR's offices to the next door UBS skyscraper, where the ascent began. Naturally, someone who is decidedly not the raccoon has started a Twitter account on the critter's behalf.

Spirit finally went silent on March 22, 2010, stuck in deep sand and unable to favorably orient itself so its solar arrays could face the low-altitude sun during the harsh martian winter.

The rover touched down on the red planet with its twin Spirit in January 2004, and the robotic emissaries got to work right away in different parts of the world.

Dust hangs in the Martian air in this photo taken by NASA's Curiosity rover on June 2, 2018.

"Each observation of these large storms brings us one step closer to being able to model them", Zurek said, and his colleague Watson noted that "we're fortunate that we have a record number of operational spacecraft at Mars" to make those observations. During southern summer, sunlight warms dust particles, lifting them higher into the atmosphere and creating more wind. That's of concern. The problem isn't the dust, but the darkness it creates. "They can crop up suddenly but last weeks, even months".

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