Mars rover takes selfie during intense Martian dust storm

NASA’s Opportunity rover, which uses solar power, went into safe mode due to the sky being so dark

June 18, 2018 – Business Insider

A nasty dust storm is wrapping around Mars, and visibility in some regions is so poor that the skies look like night during the middle of the day.

It’s a dire moment for NASA’s Opportunity rover, which uses solar power to explore the red planet. The 15-year-old rover fell asleep on June 10 to conserve power in hopes of waiting out the storm until sunlight can reach its panels.

“This is the worst storm Opportunity has ever seen, and we’re doing what we can, crossing our fingers, and hoping for the best,” Steve Squyres, a planetary scientist at Cornell University and leader of the rover mission, told A.J.S. Rayl for a recent Planetary Society blog post.

Scientists think the storm may last weeks. If Opportunity’s energy reserves run too low to keep its aging electronic circuits warm, blisteringly cold Martian temperatures could disable them.

But halfway around the planet, dust storm conditions aren’t as dangerous for Curiosity – a car-size, nuclear-powered rover that NASA landed on Mars in 2012. Curiosity uses plutonium-238 instead of solar cells to power its exploration of the red planet, so the darkness isn’t a problem either.

In fact, Curiosity photographed itself on Friday during the dust storm.

The image comes from an instrument called the Mars Hand Lens Imager. The camera sits on the end of Curiosity’s robotic arm and can function like a multi-million-dollar selfie stick.

Because the camera can’t capture all of Curiosity in one shot, it has to take a series of photos – more than 200 in this case. So on Saturday, Kevin M. Gill, a NASA software engineer who processes spacecraft photos as a hobby, stitched them all together into a single panorama.

However, NASA eventually figured out a way to work around the problem and tested the drill in May 2018. Curiosity bored a two-inch-deep hole, then dropped some fresh Martian grit on the ground during a subsequent test (to see how much dirt the drill could collect for sampling)

Scientists hope to gain more clues as to how such massive dust storms arise and dissipate on Mars by using Opportunity, Curiosity, and three satellites in orbit around the planet

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