And the Opportunity rover is in the middle of it. As of June 10, it covered more than 15.8 million square miles (41 million square kilometres) - about the area of North America and Russian Federation combined. Luckily, NASA has since made contact with the rover, which is encouraging sign.
NASA's long-lived Opportunity Mars rover is hunkering down to conserve power in a bid to weather a huge dust storm blanketing the red planet that has, in effect, turned day into night for the solar-powered robot. "The storm, which was first detected on May 30, now blankets 14 million square miles (35 million square kilometers) of Martian surface-a quarter of the planet". Mission team members have a delicate balancing act ahead if the dust storm persists; they'll need to run Opportunity's heaters enough to keep the rover from freezing, but not so much that they run out its batteries.
Full dust storms though one are not surprising, but are infrequent.
Scientists think the power level in Opportunity's batteries is below 24 volts. NASA's other active Mars rover, Curiosity, is better able to cope with the darkening storm because its power comes from a plutonium-fueled generator.
That storm, which covered as much area as North America and Russian Federation combined as of today (June 12), has engulfed the golf-cart-size Opportunity rover, plunging its environs into perpetual darkness. As of Sunday, this storm's level was estimated at a much more severe 10.8. Data from the transmission let engineers know the rover still has enough battery charge to communicate with ground controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. This latest transmission also showed that the rover's temperature had reached about -29 °C (-20 °F).
The dust has blotted out the Sun in many regions, including Opportunity's current location at Perseverance Valley.
While the insulating factor of the dust will likely keep Opportunity's instruments from suffering damage from the cold, there is one very serious ramification of this storm. As soil gets warmed up, updrafts form in the thin Martian air and create dust devils, which suck fine dust high into the atmosphere. "They can crop up suddenly but last weeks, even months". NASA has continued to track the storm from orbit and the surface.
Fingers crossed the storm subsides as soon as possible and the little rover that could once again emerges unscathed. And if there's one thing Opportunity has proven, it is that it's capable of enduring! At this rate, it could have many more years of life left in it!