A recent dust storm on Mars has made NASA's Opportunity rover weak and is unable to perform as it is expected to. It's critical to the rover's survival - NASA believes its rover Spirit failed after it could not harvest enough sunlight to power its survival heaters. 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.
According to NASA, the previous storm had an opacity level somewhere above 5.5, while the ongoing storm had an estimated opacity level of 10.8 as of Sunday morning.
Three different types of organic molecules were discovered when the rover dug just 5cm into roughly 3.5-billion-year-old mudstone, a fine-grained sedimentary rock, at Gale crater, apparently the site of a large lake when ancient Mars was warmer and wetter than it is today. This required the team to shift the rover to minimal operations while the massive dust storm rages on. NASA has suspended the science operations which are carried by NASA's Opportunity rover, and they are now waiting for the storm to pass.More news: Merkel open to European Union migration reform, cautious on eurozone
The swirling dust is impacting Opportunity's solar panels, which it uses to recharge its batteries and power the heaters that allow the rover to function in the extreme cold conditions of Mars.
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. The higher that number climbs, the worse the situation becomes for Opportunity. In 2020, the next big mission will be launched, which will be able to send "pinkie-sized samples of Mars" back to by analyzed in laboratories on Earth.
A statement put out by the space agency has detailed the circumstances that Opportunity is facing now.More news: Niall has left Love Island in shock move
The temperature in Perseverance Valley, the rover's current location, is around -20 degrees F (-29 degrees C).
As with the 2007 dust storm event, there is a very real possibility that should a low-power fault program trip and Opportunity goes to sleep that the rover will not wake up again.More news: 5-year-old temporarily paralyzed after tick bite makes full recovery
NASA touts the rover's durability in lasting almost 15 years in action despite being designed for a 90-day mission. Likewise, performing certain actions draws on battery power, but can actually expel energy and raise the rover's temperature. Schiaparelli ended up crashing into the Martian surface, but TGO arrived safely and recently settled into its final orbit.