clear
Tuesday August 14th, 2018 3:22PM

NASA rover knocked out as gigantic dust storm envelops Mars

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA's seemingly unstoppable Mars rover Opportunity has been knocked out by a gigantic dust storm that is enveloping the red planet and blotting out the sun.

Officials said Wednesday they're hopeful the rover will survive the storm, which already covers one-quarter of Mars and is expected to encircle the planet in another few days. It could be weeks or even months, though, until the sky clears enough for sunlight to reach the Martian surface and recharge Opportunity's batteries through its solar panels.

For now, Mars' oldest working rover is stuck in the middle of the raging storm, in round-the-clock darkness.

"By no means are we out of the woods here," said John Callas, the Opportunity project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "This storm is threatening, and we don't know how long it will last, and we don't know what the environment will be like once it clears."

Flight controllers tried late Tuesday night to contact Opportunity, but the rover did not respond. The storm has been growing since the end of May with unprecedented speed.

NASA launched the twin rovers Opportunity and Spirit in 2003 to study Martian rocks and soil. They landed in 2004. Spirit hasn't worked for several years. Opportunity, however, has kept exploring well past its expected mission lifetime.

Scientists aren't nearly as concerned about the newer, nuclear-powered Curiosity rover on the other side of Mars, which is already seeing darkening skies.

Dust storms crop up every so often at Mars, sending dust tens of miles (kilometers) into the atmosphere and turning day into night. Spacecraft orbiting Mars are too high to be affected.

There's no chance of Opportunity being buried or getting a wheel stuck in dust. Even in the worst of storms, only a layer of fine dust is left behind. Managers said the main concern is that dust could temporarily cover its optical instruments.

The rover's batteries are likely so low that only a clock is still working, to wake the spacecraft for periodic power-level checks, according to officials. If the clock also goes offline, then the rover won't know what time it is when it comes back on and could send back signals at any time.

This isn't Opportunity's first major brush with dust.

In 2007, a massive dust storm kept Opportunity silent for a few days. It jumped back into action after awakening from its deep self-protecting slumber.

This time, the rover's energy level is believed to be much lower. On the plus side, Martian summertime is approaching and that should keep temperatures up at night and prevent the batteries and other parts from freezing. Besides electrical heaters, Opportunity is equipped with eight tiny plutonium-powered heaters.

Scientists are eager to learn as much as they can about the dust storm to hone their weather forecasting skills. Astronauts living on Mars, for instance, wouldn't want to get caught outside in a fierce dust storm, where winds can reach 70 mph (113 kilometers per hour) — almost hurricane force. The Martian atmosphere is so thin that while the wind can lift dust off the surface, it doesn't topple a spacecraft.

Opportunity was in remarkably good health going into the storm, Callas said, with only an arthritic joint in its robotic arm.

"Keep in mind, we're talking about a rover that's been working at Mars, hanging in there, for 15 years and designed just for 90 days," said Jim Watzin, director of NASA's Mars exploration program. "It just doesn't get any better than that."

___

The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, AP Business
© Copyright 2018 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
St. Paul raccoon set free after scaling 25-story tower
A raccoon that became an internet sensation by climbing a 25-story office tower in downtown St. Paul has been released
3:35PM ( 13 minutes ago )
NASA rover knocked out as gigantic dust storm envelops Mars
Gigantic dust storm on Mars blocks sun, knocks out NASA's rover Opportunity
3:34PM ( 14 minutes ago )
Mayor nixes move to ban media, non-residents from meetings
An Alabama mayor is backing down from an attempt to ban the media and out-of-towners from council meetings
3:16PM ( 31 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Air Force officer who vanished worked for university system
An Air Force officer with top security clearance who vanished 35 years ago and was arrested in California last week worked for years as a consultant for the University of California system
2:49PM ( 59 minutes ago )
Nevada pimp wins GOP primary, rejoices with Hollywood madam
The owner of half a dozen legal brothels in Nevada has ousted a Republican state lawmaker running for re-election
2:45PM ( 1 hour ago )
Wildfires destroy Utah homes, prompt Colorado evacuations
Authorities say a fast-moving brush fire destroyed eight homes in the Utah tourist town of Moab and more than 3,000 people in Colorado and Wyoming fled multiple wildfires scorching the drought-stricken U.S. West
2:41PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
The Latest: Fed to double number of news conferences
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell says the U.S. central bank will double the number of news conferences it holds each year to eight from four
2:48PM ( 59 minutes ago )
The Latest: Argentina looking up at towering foe Iceland
Relatively short Argentina is putting special emphasis on height during training for its World Cup opener against towering Iceland, the tournament's tallest team.
2:47PM ( 1 hour ago )
Stocks slip after Fed says interest rates will rise faster
US stocks are lower after the Federal Reserve raises interest rates for the second time this year and says it expects to increase rates two more times this year
2:45PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Business
St. Paul raccoon set free after scaling 25-story tower
A raccoon that became an internet sensation by climbing a 25-story office tower in downtown St. Paul has been released
3:35PM ( 13 minutes ago )
Pence gives campaign-style speech to Southern Baptists
Vice President Mike Pence gives campaign-style to the closing session of the Southern Baptist Convention ' annual meeting, winning several standing ovations even as his appearance drew criticism from some evangelicals
3:32PM ( 15 minutes ago )
Mayor nixes move to ban media, non-residents from meetings
An Alabama mayor is backing down from an attempt to ban the media and out-of-towners from council meetings
3:16PM ( 31 minutes ago )
The Latest: Businesses' trade concerns growing, Powell says
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell says the Fed is hearing growing concerns from business executives about the Trump administration's trade policies, including anecdotal cases where companies have postponed larger purchases or new hires.
3:11PM ( 36 minutes ago )
AP Investigation: Local fish isn't always local
An Associated Press investigation finds that a leading sustainable seafood distributor who promised wild-caught, domestic fish traceable back to a dock has been duping chefs across the U.S.
3:11PM ( 37 minutes ago )