NASA news: Mars Opportunity rover lost in giant dust storm agency reveals | Science | News

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’s 15-year-old Mars Opportunity rover hunkered down its power systems on June 12 as the storm descended on Mars.

One of the thickest sandstorms ever to be seen on Mars has now been battering the Red Planet for two weeks.

On Friday, June 8, NASA’s engineers temporarily suspended the Opportunity rover to weather out the growing dust storm.

A series of simulated photographs taken by Opportunity show a timelapse of the deteriorating storm slowly blotting out the sun over Mars.

By now conditions from the rover’s point of view are pitch black.

According to NASA, the storm which was first spotted on May 30, now covers a surface area of 14-million square miles (35-million square kilometres).

But despite temporarily decommissioning NASA’s rover, astronomers are excited by the prospect of studying the Martian storm.

Jim Watzin, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, said: “This is the ideal storm for Mars science.

“We have a historic number of spacecraft operating at the Red Planet.

“Each offers a unique look at how dust storms form and behave – knowledge that will be essential for future robotic and human missions.”

East of Opportunity is the famous Curiosity rover which NASA said is now also picking up signs of increased dust in the Gale crater area.

An additional three orbiters are cycling the Red Planet from high vantage points, all focusing on the storm with their specialised cameras and atmospheric tools.

Dust storms are a common occurrence on Mars throughout all seasons and typically last for days.

Occasionally the dust storms will blanket entire regions at a time or even ballon to consume to the whole planet.

NASA estimates planet-sized storms occur roughly every three to four Mars years on average – six to eight years on Earth.

Rich Zurek, chief scientist for the Mars Program Office, said studying these monstrous weather patterns could help predict them in the future.

The expert said: “Each observation of these large storms brings us closer to being able to model these events and maybe, someday, being able to forecast them.

“That would be like forecasting El Niño events on Earth, or the severity of upcoming hurricane seasons.”

The Opportunity rover is now most likely operating in lower power mode which means most subsystems bar a mission clock are offline.

The mission clock will eventually wake the rover to check its battery charge and determine whether it ends to go back to sleep or carry on with its mission.

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