Mars Opportunity rover is in danger of dying from a dust storm

Martian Dust Storm

That does not mean that NASA will risk losing its longest-working explorer to a dust storm though. In 2020, the next big mission will be launched, which will be able to send "pinkie-sized samples of Mars" back to by analyzed in laboratories on Earth.

The rover has proved hardier than expected by lasting almost 15 years, despite being designed for a 90-day mission.

NASA announced on Friday the suspension of science operations for the Opportunity rover while it waits for the storm to blow over.

As per a statement by NASA officials, they said that when they have spotted the storm, they notified the rover's team to get prepared for the contingency plans and in some days the storm has ballooned. Rovers like Opportunity rely on sunlight to charge their solar panels and batteries.

Like all Martian spacecraft, Opportunity uses solar panels to keep its batteries charged. The storm quickly grew to cover over 7 million square miles (18 million square kilometers) and swept across Perseverance Valley where Opportunity is located. This led NASA to compare the situation on the red planet as similar to "an extremely smoggy day that blots out sunlight".

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NASA says that rover's power levels had dropped significantly by June 6, requiring it to be in a near-dormant state.

Three different types of organic molecules were discovered when the rover dug just 5cm into roughly 3.5-billion-year-old mudstone, a fine-grained sedimentary rock, at Gale crater, apparently the site of a large lake when ancient Mars was warmer and wetter than it is today.

"It's not unlike running a vehicle in the winter so that the cold doesn't sap its battery charge", NASA writes in a release. The officials further said that such storms can arrive suddenly and last up to weeks or months.

NASA's MER-B is threatened by vast dust storm that may put the Opportunity rover into vocational hazard. Despite this, both rovers have vastly exceeded expectations: they were only created to last 90 days each. NASA is involved as well; for example, the American space agency is providing key components for the rover's main astrobiology instrument, the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer.

The good news is Opportunity made contact with NASA over the weekend to confirm that it's still operational. The rover's initial mission timeline was just 90 days, but it's now approaching its 15th full year of operation. There's much less light available to recharge the batteries this time, so the Opportunity team is hoping for a shorter storm. "That wind kicks up yet more dust, creating a feedback loop that NASA scientists still seek to understand".

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