NASA's Curiosity rover beams back photos of dust storm on Mars

NASA's Curiosity rover beams back photos of dust storm on Mars

A Martian dust storm has reduced sunlight and visibility at the rover's location in Gale Crater.

Despite the severity of the current storm and its yet unknown duration, NASA is still hopeful the battered Opportunity rover might survive after all.

"The Martian dust storm has grown in size and is now officially a "planet-encircling" (or "global") dust event", NASA officials said in a statement.

In June 2018, NASA's Curiosity Rover used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to snap photos of the intensifying haziness on the surface of Mars, caused by a massive dust storm. About 5,000 miles away, on the opposite sides of Mars, NASA's Curiosity rover, which is nuclear powered, is busy snapping photos, even as the weather grew worse.

The dust storm battering Opportunity is now a global storm, NASA reports. The robot rover has gone to sleep because its solar panels are unable to provide or recharge its batteries.

More precisely, the "Red Rover" devs recreated the surface of Mars by using the images taken by the MRO's HiRISE (High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) instrument.

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The Martian dust storm was first detected May 30 by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The storm's impact on Opportunity is a different story. A series of photos by Opportunity before it went silent show the Martian sky darkening until the sun itself disappears from view. The storm's light-blocking factor, called "Tau" has grown to over 8.0 above at the Gale Crater where Curiosity is right now. These include the structure of our thicker atmosphere and stronger gravity that helps settle dust. Past dust storms seen by NASA's Mariner 9 spacecraft from 1971 to 1972, as well as by the Mars Global Surveyor in 2001, were also much larger. "The current dust storm is more diffuse and patchy; it's anyone's guess how it will further develop, but it shows no sign of clearing". But it's nearly Martian summer at Opportunity's location, and temperatures are not expected to dip below the danger level, NASA officials have said.

Before the dust storm hit, Opportunity was exploring a valley lining the slope of Endeavour Crater, helping scientists investigate whether the feature formed from a water, ice or debris flow, or from wind erosion.

Image credits Viking Orbiter Views of Mars, NASA SP-441, p. 14.

As of Wednesday, June 20, NASA atmospheric scientist Scott D. Guzewich says the space agency doesn't "have any good idea" to any of the above questions. "Each offers a unique look at how dust storms form and behave - knowledge that will be essential for future robotic and human missions". While the camera's shutter stayed open for only 7.3 milliseconds to gather the light for the May 21 image, for the one taken on June 17, it stayed open for roughly nine times longer - 66 milliseconds.

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