NASA suspended the operations of the Opportunity rover in Mars as it was engulfed by a massive dust storm. 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.
As has been seen throughout Opportunity's lifetime, dust routinely collects on the surface of its solar panels and is, somewhat surprisingly, routinely cleaned by Mars' wind and dust devil events, thus allowing greater power generation on the rover than would otherwise be possible if total accumulation built up over time without these cleaning events.
Like all Martian spacecraft, Opportunity uses solar panels to keep its batteries charged. And over this past week, that "trouble" has been a Martian dust storm that's larger than the continent of North America, spanning 7 million square miles (18 million square kilometers) when it passed over Opportunity's current location in Mars' Perseverance Valley.
"Full dust storms like this one are not surprising, but are infrequent", according to a NASA statement. Air conditions are similar to "an extremely smoggy day", as a result, NASA says.
"It's not unlike running a vehicle in the winter so that the cold doesn't sap its battery charge", NASA writes in a release. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught sight of the developing bad weather, and the orbiter team passed on a warning to the Opportunity team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.
NASA's MER-B is threatened by vast dust storm that may put the Opportunity rover into vocational hazard.
NASA's Opportunity rover has spent well over 5,000 days on Mars, and has survived well past its initial 90 day mission and outlived its inactive sister rover, Spirit. Despite this, both rovers have vastly exceeded expectations: they were only created to last 90 days each.
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover hasn't found signs of alien life, but one of its wheeled brethren just might do so a few short years from now.
There's no telling when the storm would end, and NASA says it would continue to monitor the rover's power levels in the weeks to come. During summer in the south, the Sun warms dust particles, causing them to rise up higher into the sky. During the time, the rover stopped phoning in to NASA to save power, defying NASA scientists who had anxious if the rover would be able to power its vital survival heaters with the low power levels caused by that dust storm.