On June 1, the NASA space agency for the first time recorded strong winds on Mars thanks to the Opportunity rover, which was followed by a massive dust storm on the Red Planet. Currently, the weather phenomenon covers an area of more than 7 million square miles (18 million square kilometers) – this is more than the territory of the whole of North America. In connection with the threat looming over Opportunity, NASA engineers reported the need for a temporary halt to all operations and scientific work – at least until the end of the storm.
As you know, a dust storm (not to be confused with a sandstorm) increases the level of the opacity of the atmosphere, blocking the entry of light from the sun to the surface, therefore on the Red planet now even in the daytime is dark. For Opportunity, this is a bad sign, because under such conditions the rover can not use solar panels to recharge its batteries. As a result of an unexpected change of weather on June 7, the spacecraft noticeably slowed down in power. NASA had to activate the hibernation mode to send most of the energy to the built-in heating system, which protects the batteries from freezing in extreme cold (the temperature in the valley where Opportunity is now is -29 degrees Celsius).
This is not the first time that Opportunity gets into a dust storm on Mars. In 2007, the spacecraft managed to survive a similar storm, which lasted two weeks and swept the entire planet. As now, the rover was put into hibernation mode in order to save energy. However, at that time the value of tau (the opacity coefficient of the Martian atmosphere) was 5.5, and the current storm for the same period reached 10.8. An opportunity not only does not receive light from the Sun but because of poor visibility, it can simply get stuck in the Martian sand, as it happened with the predecessor Spirit in 2010.
According to NASA, a dust storm is intensifying. Experts of the space agency predict that it will last a month or more. During this time, the storm completely covers Mars, and NASA does not exclude the possibility that in the summer of 2018, the mission of Opportunity will end. One of NASA’s most durable rovers is actually exploring the Red Planet for 15 years.
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