U.S. space agency NASA has officially confirmed that the ongoing dust storm on Mars now spans the entire circumference of the planet. The two-week-old storm has reportedly doubled in size over the weekend.
“The Martian dust storm has grown in size and is now officially a ‘planet-encircling’ (or ‘global’) dust event,” NASA officials noted in an official statement.
The dust storm, which was first detected on May 30, has already put the space agency’s Mars Opportunity rover offline. The spacecraft relies on sun’s solar energy to operate. As a result of the dust storm, the rover is not able to receive the sunlight as even the days have turned to nights.
To cope with low battery levels, the rover has put itself to low power fault mode in which all the rover’s systems shut down except for the mission clock that wakes up the rover at regular intervals and keeps a check on its power levels each day to see whether it can communicate. The 15-year-old Opportunity last contacted the NASA engineers on Sunday, June 10. The contact was lost on June 12 when the rover missed a check-in call from the space agency.
This storm is the most powerful to hit the Red Planet since 2007. During the 2007 dust storm, NASA lost contact with Opportunity for a number of days due to low power levels from the lack of sunlight. But, it was back into action again soon. It is expected that this time as well the rover will begin to communicate again once the storm clears out.
Meanwhile, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is well doing its work. It is located on the other side of Mars from Opportunity. As Curiosity has a nuclear-powered battery, it remains unaffected by the dust storm. It has even captured the dust storm with the help of its Mast Camera, or Mastcam.
The space agency claims that Curiosity’s findings will offer an answer to a key question which is why some dust storms on Mars become planet-enshrouding events and last months while others fade away in a week.