NASA scientists announced a giant sandstorm on Mars

Huge Dust Storm on Mars Sidelines NASA's Opportunity Rover

The same could not be said for Opportunity's companion probe, Mars Spirit, which failed completely after a dust storm in 2008.

On Sunday, Opportunity phoned home, sending a transmission to engineers back on Earth. Science operations remain suspended. And now with the dust storm blocking the sky, the sum of sunlight Opportunity can utilize to recharge has decreased. As of Sunday morning, the current dust storm boasted a tau of 10.8. The swirling dust absorbs heat, raising the temperature at the surface. On June 7, the rover's power levels dropped appreciably. Part of the equipment onboard is a survival heater system, which kick in to keep the batteries at a certain temperature rather than allowing them to get unduly cold. Though Opportunity was created to only operate for 90 days, it has continued to explore the planet for over 15 years.

"We first started observing little bursts of methane, and it really wasn't until this paper, which incorporates data from the last five-and-a-half years from the rover, that we were able to show that those methane bursts occur on a seasonal basis and therefore really are intrinsic, they're from Mars itself", Siebach says. "In a matter of days, the storm had ballooned". Nighttime on Mars is extremely cold, but using Opportunity's heaters can drain the batteries. In 2007, a much bigger dust storm covered Mars.

And this is a problem - unlike Curiosity, which launched later with a nuclear generator, Opportunity relies on solar panels for power, and batteries for storage.

A recent dust storm on Mars has made NASA's Opportunity rover weak and is unable to perform as it is expected to.

"Ultimately, the storm subsided and Opportunity prevailed", NASA said.

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Opportunity, which was designed for a 90-day mission, has survived on Mars for 15 years, and if it can somehow circumvent this massive dust storm as well, it would be a great compliment to its unwavering tenacity.

Top speed of the vehicle is 50 mm/second (0.18 km/h), and in the time it spent on Mars in managed to travel only 45 kilometers (28 miles), unofficially becoming the single slowest, most expensive self-propelled vehicle.

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover hasn't found signs of alien life, but one of its wheeled brethren just might do so a few short years from now.

The storm could last weeks or months to come, and NASA is going to continue carefully monitoring the situation.

"During southern summer, sunlight warms dust particles, lifting them higher into the atmosphere and creating more wind", the space agency says. During the time, the rover stopped phoning in to NASA to save power, defying NASA scientists who had anxious if the rover would be able to power its vital survival heaters with the low power levels caused by that dust storm.

NASA released a global map of Mars captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on June 6.

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