A dust storm has been growing very rapidly since the last week in Mars. Only a week ago, the dust storm covered about one-fourth of the planet; it has not covered almost the whole planet.
NASA’s nuclear-powered Curiosity is clicking pictures of the Martian land which cannot be seen due to the excessively dark sky as a result of the storm. The storm has caused a bit of trouble for the agency as its Opportunity rover went offline since it couldn’t receive sunlight anymore.
Also being called as a “global weather event,” NASA officially regarded it as a “planet-encircling,” or “global,” dust event.
This event is not one of a kind. A similar “global” dust storm occurred back in 2007 in Mars. This came after the Opportunity Rover started exploring the plains of Meridiani Planum on Mars in 2004. The dust storm of 2007 had resulted in the loss of communication with Opportunity rover for some days caused by the lack of power in the rover due to blockage of sunlight.
NASA reported a loss of contact with the Opportunity rover on June 12 when it didn’t respond to a check-in call. It is assumed that the rover is operating at low power and occasionally powering up to check whether batteries have charged enough to communicate back on Earth. As of now, all operations have stopped temporarily by the rover while it waits for the storm to calm down.
The space agency was positive about the endurance of Opportunity rover to the extreme environment on Mars and said that the batteries could stay warm enough to function. But it was also told that the atmosphere is so filled with dust that accurate measurements were very much not possible for the rover.
The storm has affected the working of the rover. However, NASA officials said that the wind was not as big as the one back in 2007, which the rover survived. Compared to the present, dust storms seen by NASA’s Mariner 9 spacecraft and Mars Global Surveyor were much larger.
NASA’s Curiosity may not be affected by the dust storm, but the thick atmosphere is making it challenging to capture visible photographs for the scientists.
An update from NASA officials said that the storm shows “no sign of clearing.” The scientists also fail to answer why specific dust storms cover the whole planet while others fade away in mere weeks.