Phenomena

Dust Envelopes Mars

A series of photos of the sun being blocked by Martian dust

Day has turned into night for NASA’s Opportunity rover as a massive dust storm envelopes Mars. The first signs of the dust storm were reported May 30th, and over the last two weeks, the storm has grown to an area larger than North America and Russia combined. Despite the low pressure and density of Mars’ atmosphere, solar heating can create fairly strong winds – they don’t reach hurricane-force speeds, but they’d qualify as a very windy day here on Earth. With the lower gravity on Mars, this can lift dust well into the atmosphere, choking out the sunlight Opportunity needs to continue operating. The rover has entered a low-power mode and is no longer responding to communications. Martian dust storms have been known to last for weeks or even months, and this may be the last we hear from the intrepid rover on its fifteen year journey. Here’s hoping that Opportunity makes it through the storm and can eventually get the solar power needed to phone home again. (Image credit: NASA JPL)

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