PHOTO: NASA’s Curiosity rover is tracking a huge dust storm on Mars

Dust suspended in the Martian air in this photo, taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover on June 2, 2018.


NASA’s Curiosity rover is keeping the large Mars dust storm that sidelined his older cousin on the other side of the planet.

That storm, which, as much space as it is in North America and Russia combined, with effect from today (12 June), has swallowed the golf-cart-size Opportunity rover, plunging her surroundings into eternal darkness. The solar-powered Opportunity has therefore temporarily ceased scientific operations.

A recent photo taken by Curiosity suggests that the substance may be encroaching a little bit on the locale, the 96-meter-wide (154 kilometers) Gale Crater. But Curiosity is nuclear powered, so a decrease in the sun is not so with respect to the handlers. [Curiosity rover’s 10 Largest Mars Moments of The 1st 5 Years]

Still, the Curiosity team is trying to monitor the storm.

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“Measuring dust in the atmosphere, we will be the first point Mastcam in the direction of the sun and take a tau measurement, which allows us to determine the optical depth vertically,” mission team member Rachel Kronyak wrote in an update on Friday (8 June). (Mastcam, short for “Mast Camera,” is the two-camera system on the Curiosity of the head-as the mast. The cameras capture the color of photos and video of the Red Planet landscape, and soil for a variety of purposes.)

“Then we take a Mastcam image of the edge of the crater to determine line-of-sight extinction, which is directly related to the amount of the substance present. ENV will also be a couple of movies with Navcam to assess clouds, wind direction, and to look for dust devils,” Kronyak added. (“ENV” refers to the mission of the environmental science team. Navcam is Curiosity’s black-and-white navigation camera system, of which the images will help the rover team plan routes.)

This is not the first big dust storm weathered by the Opportunity, which landed on the Red Planet in January 2004: An even bigger storm forced the rover to stand down for two weeks in 2007. But the dust around Chance is now much thicker than it was in the previous storm, mission team members have said.

Chance beamed a message to the handlers on Sunday (10 June), that is a good sign; it shows the rover still has a decent amount of energy in the battery. The mission of team members have a delicate balancing act ahead if the dust storm continues to exist; they will have to run the Chance of heaters enough to the robber to freeze, but not so much that they run out of batteries.

And Martian cold could kill. Opportunity’s twin, Spirit, which also landed on the Red Planet in January 2004, apparently froze to death after getting stuck in thick sand in 2010.

Curiosity has been exploring Gale Crater since August 2012. The car-size rover began Mars mission on the crater, but it is currently climbing through the foothills of Mount Sharp, which rises 3.4 miles (5.5 km) into the Martian sky from Gale’s center.

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