NASA’s Mars Rover goes silent as dust storm ‘bigger than America’ sweeps planet

A global map of Mars with a growing dust storm. The blue dot at centre indicates the approximate location of the Opportunity rover (Nasa/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/AP)

A vast dust storm fourteen million square miles across has swept Mars, and NASA’s Mars Rover has gone silent as the storm has set in.

NASA engineers attempted to contact the Mars Opportunity Rover, but heard nothing.

The storm now covers a quarter of the planet.

The team is now assuming that the charge in the 15-year-old rover’s batteries has dipped to a level where it enters low power fault mode.

Nasa concerned about future of Opportunity rover as huge storm takes over Mars

NASA said in a statement, ‘As soon as the orbiter team saw how close the storm was to Opportunity, they notified the rover’s team to begin preparing contingency plans.’

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‘In a matter of days, the storm had ballooned. Full dust storms like this one are not surprising, but are infrequent. They can crop up suddenly but last weeks, even months’

NASA is now working on the assumption that the Rover has powered down to ‘wait out’ the storm.

NASA says, ‘If the rover’s computer determines that its batteries don’t have enough charge, it will again put itself back to sleep. Due to an extreme amount of dust over Perseverance Valley, mission engineers believe it is unlikely the rover has enough sunlight to charge back up for at least the next several days.’