A monster Martian dust storm has engulfed more than a quarter of the planet’s surface, threatening the functionality of NASA’s Opportunity rover.
Scientists remain unsure of whether or not Opportunity is working, especially as it has not radioed back to its earthly handlers since Sunday.
As reported by the Inquisitr last week, NASA was first informed about the developing dust storm on Mars on June 7, after it had covered vast plains of Meridiani Planum. This is where Opportunity is stationed, and now the NASA team receiving signals from the rover fears that its life could be in deep peril.
The Opportunity rover was sent to Mars in 2004 for an initial mission which was supposed to last 90 days. But thanks to the tenacity of the rover, it has lasted on the difficult planet for almost 15 years now. During the time, it even overcame a massive dust storm back in 2007, when it had covered the entirety of Mars. This is one reason that despite the rover not having contacted NASA since Sunday, scientists are holding out hope that Opportunity will survive the dust storm.
Having said that, another rover built by NASA, Spirit, died after it got stuck in Martian sand back in 2010. Just like Spirit, Opportunity also works on solar panels, but due to the dust storm, it might not have been able to receive sunlight — thus losing power.
Since NASA scientists have received only silence in response to their attempts to contact Opportunity, there is a widely held belief that the rover might be running on critical low-power mode. It is basically a sort of hibernation mode that the rover goes into under intense duress.
Before the rover went silent, however, Opportunity sent one last image (featured image) to its handlers on Earth. As reported by BGR, the image is a composite simulation of the varying degrees of atmospheric opacity that Opportunity would have seen as it was being gobbled up by the dust storm over the period of the last few days.
“The left starts with a blindingly bright mid-afternoon sky, with the sun appearing bigger because of brightness. The right shows the Sun so obscured by dust it looks like a pinprick. Each frame corresponds to a tau value, or measure of opacity: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11.”
There is no news on how long the dust storm may last on Mars, but judging by its growing intensity, one would think that Opportunity is bound to face more difficult days as it goes forward.
Till that time, NASA wouldn’t know if its rover is alive.