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Martian Storm Unlike Any Seen This Decade

It now encircles the whole Red Planet
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 21, 2018 11:41 AM CDT
This composite image made from a series of June 15 photos shows a self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover in the Gale Crater.   (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP)

(Newser) – The oldest operating rover on Mars will have to hunker down a bit longer. The dust storm whomping the Red Planet since May 30, which covered a quarter of its surface a week ago, now circles the entire sphere. NASA's solar-powered Opportunity rover powered down in Mars' Perseverance Valley on June 10 as dust clouds reaching up to 40 miles in elevation blocked the sun's rays. Still, researchers expect it to power up again when the storm passes. In the meantime, they have the chance to study a Martian storm unlike any seen in the past decade. The "historic number of spacecraft" currently operating on Mars means "this is the ideal storm for Mars science," one that will hopefully provide knowledge "essential for future robotic and human missions," NASA's Jim Watzin tells CNN.

One big question NASA doesn't yet have the answer to: Why do some dust storms peter out after a week while others persist for months? That's where NASA's Curiosity rover, which arrived on the Red Planet five years after the last big storm, comes in. Thanks to a nuclear-powered battery, Curiosity will continue sending data back to Earth from the Gale Crater, half a planet away from Opportunity, per CNET. The storm poses little risk to its instruments, though some extra exposure time is needed to capture images, according to NASA. A tweet from Curiosity's official Twitter account Wednesday describes the Martian haze as at the "highest [level] I've ever seen," about six to eight times thicker than normal for the stormy summer season, per CNN. "Still safe. Science continues," Curiosity added. A week earlier, it shared an encouraging message for Opportunity: "Hang in there, sis!" (Read more Mars stories.)

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