Huge dust storm on Mars engulfs NASA rover



Washington - NASA experts on Wednesday expressed concern over an unprecedented "massive Martian dust storm" that has engulfed the Opportunity rover mission.



 
The storm covers an area as large as North America and Russia combined - a quarter of the surface of Mars - and has left the golf-cart-size rover temporarily unable to conduct science operations.
The US space agency's rover runs on solar power and has entered low power mode to conserve energy.
Mission engineers believe it is unlikely the rover has enough sunlight to charge back up for at least the next several days, NASA said in a statement earlier this week.
The first indicators of the storm were reported on May 30 and it is nearly circling the planet, NASA scientist Rich Zurek said Wednesday in a conference call.
The storm's density was estimated at a record tau, or opacity level, of 10.8, said John Callas, project manager at NASA. This reading is about twice as dense as any other storm that Opportunity has endured since landing on Mars in 2004. It could also pose a threat to the Curiosity rover, which is monitoring the storm from the periphery.
Engineers are also concerned that freezing temperatures caused by the storm could damage the rover, as cold is thought to be what led to the breakdown of NASA's Spirit rover - Opportunity's twin - in 2010.
Each rover was designed to only last 90 days, yet with Opportunity entering its 15th year in operation, the NASA team has used the rover more than 50 times longer than originally planned.

 


Wednesday, June 13th 2018
(dpa)
           


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