Massive Dust Storm On Mars Jeopardizes The Longest-Running Mars Rover

Dust StormThis nearly global mosaic of observations made by the Mars colour Imager on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Nov. 18, 2012, shows a dust storm in Mars’ southern hemisphere. Small white arrows outline the area where dust from the storm is apparent in the atmosphere.

Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The weather on Mars has been unusually dusty this past week, which could pose an issue for NASA’s ageing rover, Opportunity, which is going on nine years exploring Mars’ Endeavour crater.  On Nov. 10, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter picked up a large dust storm. By the end of the week, the storm had grown big enough to be detected by both the Opportunity rover and the Curiosity rover, which is sitting halfway around the planet in Gale Crater. 

The Opportunity rover and its twin, Spirit, landed on Mars in 2004. Spirit stopped sending signals back 2010, but Opportunity has weathered the Red Planet well. 

Although the dust storm is still regional and has come no closer than a little more than 800 miles from Opportunity, there is a chance that it could morph into a global dust haze, NASA said in a statement. 

If the storm were to take over the entire planet and cloud over the sky, it would most impact Opportunity, which relies on the sun for energy. The rover’s energy supply would be disrupted if dust from the air fell on its solar panels. The car-sized Curiosity rover would fare better since it is powered by plutonium instead of solar cells.

The main effect to the newer rover would be hazy images and warmer air temperatures, which could impact how the rover takes measurements of the Martian surface, says NASA. 

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