Nasa rover knocked out by Mars storm

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - HTINSIGHT - As­so­ci­ated Press

CAPECANAVERAL: Nasa’s seem­ingly un­stop­pable Mars rover Op­por­tu­nity has been knocked out by a gi­gan­tic dust storm that is en­velop­ing the red planet and blot­ting out the sun.

Of­fi­cials said on Wednesday they’re hope­ful the rover will sur­vive the storm, which al­ready cov­ers one-quar­ter of Mars and is ex­pected to en­cir­cle the planet in an­other few days. It could be weeks or even months, though, un­til the sky clears enough for sun­light to reach the Mar­tian sur­face and recharge Op­por­tu­nity’s bat­ter­ies through its so­lar pan­els.

For now, Mars’ old­est work­ing rover is stuck in the mid­dle of the rag­ing storm, in round-the-clock dark­ness. “By no means are we out of the woods here,” said John Cal­las, the Op­por­tu­nity pro­ject man­ager at Nasa’s Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­tory in Pasadena, Cal­i­for­nia. “This storm is threat­en­ing, and we don’t know how long it will last, and we don’t know what the en­vi­ron­ment will be like once it clears.”

Flight con­trollers tried late Tuesday night to con­tact Op­por­tu­nity, but the rover did not re­spond. The storm has been grow­ing since the end of May with un­prece­dented speed.

Nasa launched Op­por­tu­nity and Spirit in 2003 to study Mar­tian rocks and soil. They landed in 2004. Spirit hasn’t worked for sev­eral years. Op­por­tu­nity, how­ever, has kept ex­plor­ing well past its ex­pected mis­sion life­time.

Sci­en­tists aren’t nearly as con­cerned about the newer, nu­cle­ar­pow­ered Cu­rios­ity rover on the other side of Mars, which is al­ready see­ing dark­en­ing skies.

Dust storms crop up ev­ery so of­ten at Mars, send­ing dust tens of kilo­me­ters into the at­mos­phere and turn­ing day into night. Space­craft or­bit­ing Mars are too high to be af­fected.

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