NASA is gathering data about the Dust Storm of Mars despite Sleeping Opportunity Rover

NASA is gathering data about the Dust Storm of Mars despite Sleeping Opportunity Rover

The Red Planet Missions, other than Opportunity, are keeping NASA informed about the happenings on Mars despite the dust storm.

The Opportunity Rover of NASA went to sleep mode on 10th of June following a massive dust storm which engulfed one-fourth of the Martian atmosphere. This storm led to a state of darkness in which the solar-powered satellite couldn’t generate enough energy for the batteries and went offline. It has been sleeping for 6 weeks now as the presence of light-blocking dust in the atmosphere is not allowing the batteries to charge themselves. Scientists are hopeful that this historic satellite will spring back to life as soon as this storm clears away. Having said that, the officials of NASA have mentioned that this won’t be happening soon. They said,

Based on the longevity of a 2001 global storm, NASA scientists estimate it may be early September before the haze has cleared enough for Opportunity to power up and call home.

Despite the fact that it is a huge blow to the Opportunity Rover, it seems like it is nothing less than a blessing for other satellites (which are exploring the red planet of our solar system). They are trying to extract as much information as possible about the Mars. The most common satellite that is making good use of this opportunity is the Curiosity Rover.

It is a nuclear-powered satellite so it can easily operate in the dusty and dark conditions. It is examining the distribution and size of the dust particles found in the Martian atmosphere these days. Similarly, it is gathering information about the effect of such dust storms on the ‘Atmospheric Tides’ of the red planet. Curiosity is heavily equipped and has an on-board weather station which is proving extremely useful in analyzing the dust. Ashwin Vasavada, the Project Scientist of the Curiosity Rover at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of NASA, explained their working in the following words:

We’re working double-duty right now. Our newly recommissioned drill is acquiring a fresh rock sample. But we are also using instruments to study how the dust storm evolves.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is another satellite of NASA which is assigned the task of exploring the Mars. It detected the storm for the first time on 30th of May. It has two main instruments that track evolution and effect on atmospheric temperature of the planet. According to NASA, the wind patterns can change following the increment in temperature as the dust high in the atmosphere absorbs plenty of solar energy. These changes will eventually lift more dust of the surface of the red planet. The researchers at NASA believe that the data gathered from MRO and Odyssey will help them in determining why some storms at Mars go global while others have a local scope.

NASA is also keeping an eye on the dust storm from above. The Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) aboard Mars Odyssey Orbiter is allowing them to do so. Its working domains are very much similar to what MRO is doing. It measures the temperature of the atmosphere as well as the surface of Mars. It also keeps an account of the dust loads found in the atmosphere. Michael Smith, a Scientist at the Goddard Spaceflight Center and a member of the THEMIS team, mentioned that he working speed of the THEMIS (the rate at which it takes global atmospheric measurements) has been increased considerably in order to cope up with the massive dust storm. Initially, it was taking a measurement once every 10 days but nowadays, it has to manage two reading per week. In addition to that, he said,

This is one of the largest weather events that we’ve seen on Mars. Having another example of a dust storm really helps us to understand what’s going on.”

NASA doesn’t wants to miss anything and that’s the reason why they are using the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) to examine the effects of the dust storm higher up, where the Martian atmosphere and the vacuum of space mixes into each other. The primary goal of this orbiter was to reveal how the red planet of our solar system was deprived of its thick atmosphere. The observations of MAVEN provided an answer for that by explaining that the charged particles from the Sun burned the atmosphere of Mars. Currently, it is trying to figure out the role of huge dust storms in this atmosphere-stripping process, if there is any role at all. The Principal Investigator of MAVEN, Bruce Jakosky, described the significance of this storm by saying,

One of the things we’ve been waiting for is a global dust storm.”

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