Mars Opportunity: Rover 'Should Ride Out Storm'

The American space agency says it is concerned but hopeful that its veteran robot rover on Mars can survive a big dust storm on the planet

The rover's batteries are likely to be so low that only a clock is still working, to wake the spacecraft for periodic power-level checks, according to officials.

Opportunity, along with its twin named Spirit, launched in 2003 and landed on Mars a year late to hunt for signs of past life.

NASA says it will be several days after the storm abates before Opportunity's fate becomes clear. But the pace at which the storm grew is unprecedented.

While the rover has proved more resilient than expected by lasting almost 15 years despite being only designed for a 90-day mission, the end could now be nigh for the durable device.

The main problem here isn't the storm that has flooded the red planet; the need of the hour is to keep the rover's heaters operational and also maintaining a minimal power level in the batteries.

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The vast quantities of dust in the atmosphere have sunk a large part of the planet in the dark, which is a vital blow to the rover, which is powered by solar energy and thus fails to recharge its batteries.

"Planet encircling storms were observed in 2001 and 2007, however in the five Mars years since then, no regional storm has grown to planetary scale but the current storm on Mars is just days away from meeting that classification of a planet encircling dust event".

NASA's scientific Opportunity robotic rover Opportunity has been found in the midst of a awful sandstorm on Mars, which has forced it to silence and no longer communicate with the Earth, and there are fears about its own survival. That would trigger a "clock fault", when the rover loses track of time entirely. While the weather has forced the Opportunity rover to bunker down and suspend all scientific activities, several other spacecraft are taking the opportunity to study the storm.

The unusually severe dust storm has blocked out the Sun over a quarter of the Red Planet, blanketing an area spanning 35 million sq km, Nasa explained on Wednesday. The imager, which was built and operated by Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, creates daily global maps of Mars that tracks how storms evolve. "Knowing and understanding how these storms behave ahead of more ambitious missions, it is essential that we learn to monitor and predict storms". The thin atmosphere makes these events different from storms on Earth; even the most powerful Martian winds couldn't topple a rover.

He said: "The situation on Mars really highlights the key question about Mars today, which is 'why do these massive widespread dust events occur in some years but not in other years?'" "It's a remarkably resilient little rover".

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