That said, if such weather exists for long and the skies don't clear up in time, there could be a risk to the rover due to extreme cold on Mars - the phenomenon that led to the loss of Opportunity's twin back in 2010. If the sunlight is blocked for an extended period, the rovers will not generate enough power to operate. This produces more wind, which kicks up even more dust, creating a feedback loop.
As of June 10, the storm had almost doubled the level of atmospheric opacity, or darkness, experienced by the rover in 2007, measured in tau. The measured opacity level of the current storm is 10.8, almost double that of the 2007 event and temperatures in the region have dropped to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 degrees Celsius). The dust storm (not to be confused with a sandstorm) is raising atmospheric opacity, or "tau", blocking out light from the Sun, so it's much darker at the surface than usual. The rover was only created to last 90 days, yet here we are more than a decade later, a still-functioning Opportunity on Mars.
Science operations remain suspended, NASA engineers said, adding that they will monitor the rover's power levels closely in the week to come. It's unclear when the storm will eventually subside, but even if the storm ultimately doomed Opportunity it would have already vastly outlived its original mission.
The current dust storm, which first emerged on June 1, now spans 7 million square miles - bigger than North America.
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Teen Life: Now 14-year-old Opportunity celebrates 5,000 sols on Mars with first full #selfie. NASA is involved as well; for example, the American space agency is providing key components for the rover's main astrobiology instrument, the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer. Onboard instruments showed the rover's temperature to be -20° F (-29° C) at the latest data transmission, reducing the drain on the batteries while the systems generate heat of their own to help keep the rover warm. If the situation continues to worsen, the next step would be to suspend Opportunity's communications with Earth to save additional power. Faced with dwindling power reserves and no recharge in sight, the JPL team running the rover opted to put it into minimal operations mode.
Despite limited sunlight to charge its battery, Opportunity also needs to deal with sub-freezing temperatures on Mars.
"Its heaters are vitally important to keeping it alive, but also draw more power from the battery", NASA wrote in a recent update.
Mars, name after the Roman god of war, appears red because of the reddish iron oxide prevalent on its surface.