NASA's Opportunity Rover is Delayed For Several Days by a Large Dust Storm on Mars
But even with the rover's impressive knack for survival, NASA still gets a little nervous whenever the old rover runs into trouble. And over this past week, that "trouble" has been a Martian dust storm that's larger than the continent of North America, spanning 7 million square miles (18 million square kilometers) when it passed over Opportunity's current location in Mars' Perseverance Valley.
The enormous dust storm was first picked up by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter at the beginning of the month, but with little way to move Opportunity out of the way in time - its maximum speed is 2 inches per second (5 centimeters per second) and the storm is once again the size of North America - NASA had no choice but to watch the rover wait out the storm.
The big problem with a dust storm is that it can blot out sunlight, and being trapped inside one is much like walking through thick smog and storm-force winds. Since Opportunity, like the other rovers, runs primarily on solar powers, it was forced to run on low power for several days to avoid running out of juice entirely.
So far, Opportunity seems to be surviving once again. Its science operations completely shut down on June 6, and it's been running on low power since then, and the biggest threat is that Opportunity might not survive the Martian cold if its energy-intensive heating system can't sustain itself in the low sunlight.
It's thought that this scenario is precisely what killed the Spirit rover in 2010, although it didn't help that the rover had been stuck for a year by that point. When it comes to dust storms, the possibilitiy of the rover tipping or dust covering up its solar panels were other major concerns.
But this isn't Opportunity's first time dealing with dust storms of this size, so there's every possibility that it'll make it out when the storm subsides. When you've been traveling the Martian landscape since 2004, you've dealt with nearly everything at least once.
Science operations for Opportunity are temporarily suspended while it waits out a Martian dust storm. The dust in the atmosphere is impacting the amount of power generated by the rover's solar panels. https://t.co/897LCuqMWX (Blue dot is approx location of rover.) pic.twitter.com/tY4aVfNyEz— Spirit and Oppy (@MarsRovers) June 9, 2018