NASA's Opportunity rover falls silent

The Mars rover is under threat from the monster storm

NASA MISSION The Mars rover is under threat from the monster storm

A huge dust storm that's now 14-million square miles wide, covering a full quarter of the red planet, has blotted out the sun above Perseverance Valley, Opportunity's home.

The storm covers an area as large as North America and Russian Federation combined - a quarter of the surface of Mars - and has left the golf-cart-sized rover temporarily unable to conduct science operations.

THE NASA rover "Opportunity", which is stationed on Mars, has fallen silent as a very big dust storm enveloped the Red Planet in the past 24 hours.

Experts said the dust storm is not likely to endanger NASA's InSight mission, which launched earlier this year and is scheduled to land in November, on a mission to study quakes on Mars.

A vast dust storm larger than the entire North American continent is now raging on Mars-and it has forced NASA to suspend the scientific operations of its Opportunity rover.

Camera IconNASA's Curiosity rover pictured on Mars.

There is no chance of Opportunity being buried or getting a wheel stuck in dust.

NASA engineers received a transmission from Opportunity on Sunday but no response when they attempted to contact it since. "It's in its low-power mode, and it'll remain in that low-power mode until there's sufficient energy to charge the batteries back above a certain threshold", Callas said during the press conference.

"The good news there is that the dust storm has warmed temperatures on Mars", said Callas.

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By Wednesday, June 6th, Opportunity's power levels had dropped significantly and the rover was required to shift to minimal operations. In the middle of the chaos: the little Opportunity rover. "It's in this low-power mode", he said, noting that they did not hear from the rover during a June 12 communications pass.

However, it said that the rover has already proved hardier than expected by lasting almost 15 years - despite being designed for a 90-day mission.

"At this point, we're in a waiting mode, listening every day for possible signals", he said. That's because it may not be able power its electronic circuits enough to prevent severe cold on Mars from damaging them.

"It's like you have a loved one in a coma in the hospital. When the skies clear and the rover begins to power up, it should begin to communicate with us", Callas said, expressing confidence that Opportunity will not be buried in dust.

Engineers are also concerned that freezing temperatures caused by the storm could damage the rover, as cold is thought to be what led to the breakdown of NASA's Spirit rover - Opportunity's twin - in 2010.

"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.

UPDATE: June 13, 2018, 2:05 p.m. EDT This story was updated to include more details on the storm and Opportunity from NASA.

Controllers expect it will be several more days before there's enough sunlight to recharge Opportunity's battery through its solar panels. The rover is created to operate in temperatures as low as -55 Centigrade (-67 in Freedom units). Such storms last for weeks, sometimes months, but stop when the air temperatures equalize.

But Opportunity has survived adverse weather events in the past.

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