JUN 12, 2018 4:49 PM PDT

NASA's Opportunity Rover Halts Scientific Operations Amid Martian Dust Storm

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

There’s a massive dust storm enveloping certain parts of Mars right now, and it just so happens that NASA’s Opportunity rover is stuck right in the middle of it.

A picture of the Martian dust storm captured with Curiosity's Mastcam.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Opportunity is a solar-powered rover and therefore doesn’t play nicely with dust storms. These storms kick massive clouds of dust into the atmosphere that block vital solar rays from reaching the vehicle’s onboard solar panels.

That said, Opportunity has temporarily ceased scientific operations until the dust storm blows over. It’s currently sitting tight in standby mode, sipping off the battery power reserves it accumulated right before the dust storm struck.

This wouldn't be the first dust storm that Opportunity has endured; a larger one forced NASA to shut the rover down for two weeks in 2007. That aside, this week’s dust storm has allegedly kicked up a thicker dust cloud than the 2007 storm, so it could take a bit longer for Opportunity to become fully operational again.

Related: Check out this awesome panoramic taken by NASA's Curiosity rover

In the meantime, the Mastcam mounted on NASA’s Curiosity rover is helping the space agency track the dust storm from a distance.

"To measure dust in the atmosphere, we'll first point Mastcam towards the sun and take a tau measurement, which lets us determine the optical depth vertically," mission team member Rachel Kronyak said in a public statement.

"Then we'll take a Mastcam image of the crater rim to determine line-of-sight extinction, which is directly related to the amount of dust present. ENV will also take a few movies with Navcam to assess clouds, wind direction, and to look for dust devils."

Related: NASA's Curiosity rover finds 'organic compounds' and more on Mars

NASA warns of the possibility that the dust storm could soon intrude on Curiosity’s territory, but unlike Opportunity, Curiosity operates on nuclear-power and can manage without sunlight.

The space agency will continue monitoring the situation until the dust storm passes, ensuring that Opportunity stays warm enough amid the blocked sunlight. Onboard heating systems will prevent the rover’s delicate electronics from freezing over to avoid damage to vital components.

Source: NASA via Space.com

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
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