While the massive dust storm is blocking the sky, the sunlight reaching the NASA rover is gradually diminishing.
As the rover team prepared the contingency plan to deal with the situation, the storm grew more intense than expected.
Opportunity uses solar panels to convert sunlight into energy and power its batteries, but over these days, it couldn't get the required light to stay up and running.
In 2014, the rover, which has allowed scientists to explore whether Mars boasted conditions conducive to life, made the first definitive detection of organic molecules formed from ancient lake sediment, also in Gale crater rock, but it was a much more limited set of compounds.
The storm is actually 7 million square miles across, meaning that it's larger than North America, according to NASA.
The storm, which has been growing bigger over the last week, was first spotted on June 1 by the space agency's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Faced with dwindling power reserves and no recharge in sight, the JPL team running the rover opted to put it into minimal operations mode.
"It's not unlike running a auto in the winter so that the cold doesn't sap its battery charge", NASA writes in a release. The rover's initial mission timeline was just 90 days, but it's now approaching its 15th full year of operation.
ExoMars Rover is a joint mission between the European Space Agency and the Russian space agency Roscosmos, with a significant contribution to MOMA from NASA.
"There is a risk to the rover if the storm persists for too long and Opportunity gets too cold while waiting for the skies to clear", NASA wrote in the statement. "They can crop up suddenly but last weeks, even months".
Interestingly enough, as nature often does, the current dust storm does have one positive effect for Opportunity: it lessens the degree to which Mars' temperatures plummet in the overnight hours as the dust absorbs heat and raises the ambient temperature surrounding Opportunity. Opportunity is in its 15th year; the team has operated the rover for more than 50 times longer than originally planned.
"Ultimately, the storm subsided and Opportunity prevailed", NASA said. The updrafts of dust can trigger more winds, triggering a feedback loop that fuels the birth of a dust storm.
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