A massive dust storm raging across Mars has overcome NASA’s aging Opportunity rover, putting the unmanned, solar-powered vehicle into sleep mode and raising concerns about its survival, the US space agency said Wednesday.
The unusually severe dust storm has blocked out the Sun over one quarter of the Red Planet, blanketing an area spanning 14 million square miles (35 million square kilometers), NASA said.
Opportunity, located in a spot called Perseverance Valley, “has fallen asleep and is waiting out the storm,” said John Callas, Opportunity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“We are concerned but we are hopeful that the storm will clear and the rover will be able to communicate with us.”
The storm was first detected on May 30, and grew worse in recent days.
The robotic vehicle—one of two currently operating on Mars—has shut everything down except its master clock, and last communicated with Earth on June 10.
Callas declared a “spacecraft emergency” due to low power.
Opportunity, along with its twin named Spirit, launched in 2003 and landed on Mars a year later to hunt for signs of past life. Its mission was initially meant to last just 90 days.
The rover “has made a number of discoveries about the Red Planet including dramatic evidence that long ago at least one area of Mars stayed wet for an extended period and that conditions could have been suitable for sustaining microbial life,” NASA said in a statement.
According phys.org When the storm struck, Opportunity was tooling around near a channel, carved in rim of crater, to see if it might have been created by flowing water, wind erosion, or something else.