What started as a localized dust storm on Mars at the end of May quickly escalated to a global event, enveloping the entire planet by mid-June, the Inquisitr reported last month.
This monster dust storm, the biggest one to hit Mars since 2007, bodes ill not only for amateur astronomers who had their hearts set on gazing at the Red Planet through their telescopes — and see it make its closest approach to Earth in 15 years, as the Inquisitr recently reported — but also for NASA’s Opportunity Rover.
The solar-powered robot, sibling to the Curiosity Rover — which, by the way, is doing just fine on the other side of the planet — is still in radio silence. While the Martian dust storm is merely a nuisance for the nuclear-powered Curiosity, Opportunity is unable to charge its solar batteries on account of the thick haze covering the red landscape. As a result, the rover went silent around June 10 and hasn’t beamed back any sign to let us know it’s still OK for a couple of weeks now.
As the giant dust storm on Mars continues to rage on, astronomer and astrophotographer Damian Peach wanted to give us a better look at the enormity of this planetary event, so that we could see exactly what’s been going on lately on the Red Planet.
At the beginning of the week, Peach took to Twitter to share a GIF capturing the full scale of the Martian dust storm.
Mars vanishes beneath the dust blanket! This animation created from my June 28th image and reference MGS map of the exact same longitude really shows what has happened on Mars in recent weeks! Thanks to @Tom_Ruen for the map link. pic.twitter.com/ETVIhjYcB5
— Damian Peach (@peachastro) July 2, 2018
According to Space.com, Peach’s animation reveals the “dramatic effects” of the planet-wide storm, showing just how huge the “monster dust storm” really is.
As Peach told the media outlet, the GIF was put together from one of his own images of Mars, taken on June 28 “from Chile using a 1-meter telescope,” which he combined with “the MGS basemap of the exact same longitude.”
“I carefully matched them together to show a gradual change of the normal clear view of this hemisphere to how it appears now. It shows the large scale-obscuration due to airborne dust.”
Peach points out that the Martian landscape will continue to be obscured by the planet-sized dust storm for “at least a couple of months” — unless new local dust storms start brewing, which is entirely possible given that Mars is in full dust-event season.
If this should happen, it could spell even more trouble for the Opportunity rover. While the resilient six-wheeled robot has managed to survive for almost 15 years on Mars, as reported by the Inquisitr, and even made it through the previous dust storm after being taken out of commission for several days, it still hasn’t radioed in to NASA in two weeks, notes MLive.
NASA has not heard from rover stuck in 'planet-encircling' dust storm on Mars https://t.co/dWw2CIQQ2g
— MLive (@MLive) July 5, 2018
It appears that, in order to conserve energy, the rover has plunged into a sort of hibernation, and the ground team back on Earth is patiently (or rather, impatiently) waiting for it to wake up, check its batteries, signal home, and go back to sleep mode, Space.com reported earlier this week.
“At some point, as the storm subsides, Opportunity should wake up, decide it has enough power to transmit a signal from its low-gain antenna, saying ‘I am awake and OK, but I am going back to sleep again,'” Ray Arvidson, deputy principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover mission at Washington University in Saint Louis, said at the time.
The Opportunity rover is programmed to repeat this process every day — that is, every solar day on Mars — until it can recharge its batteries and resume operations, explained Arvidson.