Mars Rover Opportunity Hunkers Down During Dust Storm

Conspiracists go wild as Life on Mars 'proved by NASA'

But Nasa scientists emphasised that there could be nonbiological explanations for both discoveries made by the Curiosity rover at a site called Gale crater, leaving the issue of Martian life a tantalising but unanswered question.

NASA's Opportunity Rover has been exploring Mars since 2004 and has now powered down to weather out a massive storm on the red planet.

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. This is a problem because the rover uses solar panels to provide its power and recharge its batteries. It's the need to keep the rover's heaters operational while maintaining a minimal power level in the batteries.

According to the reports of Friday 8 June, the dust storm had covered near about seven million square miles (eighteen million square kilometers) of the Red Planet prevailing heavily across the Perseverance Valley, the place where the NASA Opportunity rover is situated. It increased the atmospheric opacity in the region, creating a smog-like situation where most of the sunlight gets blocked out. Air conditions are similar to "an extremely smoggy day", as a result, NASA says. The space agency even shut down its contact with Opportunity for two days to save on energy. Back in 2007, Opportunity came through a two-week storm unscathed. It's not unlike running a vehicle in the winter so that the cold doesn't sap its battery charge.

In case you're wondering, NASA's Curiosity rover is nowhere near Opportunity and is not now threatened by the dust storm. With dust clouds obscuring the sky, by Wednesday, June 6, Opportunity's battery levels had already "dropped significantly" NASA says. The rover was only created to last 90 days but has vastly exceeded expectation, and is now in its 14 year on the Martian surface.

Interestingly enough, as nature often does, the current dust storm does have one positive effect for Opportunity: it lessens the degree to which Mars' temperatures plummet in the overnight hours as the dust absorbs heat and raises the ambient temperature surrounding Opportunity. The officials further said that such storms can arrive suddenly and last up to weeks or months. During summer in the south, the Sun warms dust particles, causing them to rise up higher into the sky.

The hope is bolstered even more with the recent discovery of organic compounds on Mars by the Curiosity rover. The updrafts of dust can trigger more winds, triggering a feedback loop that fuels the birth of a dust storm.

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