Space

Opportunity stays silent as Martian dust storm goes global

Opportunity stays silent as Ma...
A self-portrait taken by the Curiosity rover shortly before the dust storm arrived
A self-portrait taken by the Curiosity rover shortly before the dust storm arrived
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Two images from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Curiosity rover depicting the change in the color of light illuminating the Martian surface since a dust storm engulfed Gale Crater
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Two images from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Curiosity rover depicting the change in the color of light illuminating the Martian surface since a dust storm engulfed Gale Crater
A self-portrait taken by the Curiosity rover shortly before the dust storm arrived
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A self-portrait taken by the Curiosity rover shortly before the dust storm arrived

Things are looking very unpleasant for NASA's Opportunity rover as the dust storm raging on Mars is officially classed as "global." Mission control has been out of contact with the unmanned explorer for over a week despite repeated attempts by NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) to find a signal that Opportunity is programmed to transmit each Martian morning. Meanwhile, the dust blotting out the Sun is depriving the rover of electrical power, reducing its chances of survival.

The Martian dust storm, which was first detected by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on May 30, continues to grow in intensity as it spreads over the entire planet. Even NASA's Curiosity rover has seen a steady increase in dust levels. Despite being on the opposite of the globe from Opportunity, the opacity, or tau factor, recorded by Curiosity has reached a level of eight, reducing light levels to that of a red, sullen twilight. By contrast, the dust is so thick around Opportunity that it would no longer possible to make accurate measurements even if the rover was still operational.

Two images from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Curiosity rover depicting the change in the color of light illuminating the Martian surface since a dust storm engulfed Gale Crater
Two images from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA's Curiosity rover depicting the change in the color of light illuminating the Martian surface since a dust storm engulfed Gale Crater

NASA engineers confirmed on June 13 that the dust storm was so great that all contact had been lost with Opportunity and that the solar panels were no longer able to keep the rover's batteries charged or run its systems. Because it is nuclear powered, Curiosity is in no danger. However, the space agency says that the storm is keeping the area around Opportunity warm enough that it may be able to function when the storm abates. Though when that will be, no one knows.

NASA says that the storm is on the same scale as the one seen by the Viking 1 orbiter in 1977, but not as large as the 2007 storm that Opportunity previously encountered. The current storm is more diffuse and patchy in character than those two previous storms, and despite the chance that Opportunity may not survive the storm, NASA scientists regard it as a chance to learn more about the Martian weather system, which can blow dust clouds as high as 40 mi (60 km).

Source: NASA

4 comments
BrianK56
Maybe we will be able to brush the dust off in a couple of years.
RogerDunkley
How does it take a selfie ? I think this photo was taken by a Martian...
IvanWashington
I wonder why they couldn't program them to de-dust themselves.
Nik
Given the thinness of the atmosphere on Mars, it amazes me that it can move anything, let alone causes a global dust storm. The dust must therefore be very fine, bad news for anyone trying to live there. They will need some serious hi=tech vacuum cleaners in their airlocks as they re-enter their living quarters, and maybe a complete shower down to wash even the tiniest amounts off, or they will be breathing it when unsuited. Just the idea of living in that environment for a lifetime, is a nightmare. Most likely, the only way to live there, is permanently underground, in a total artificial environment. Good luck to that!