Chilly Mars rover falls silent as dust storm swallows sun

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NASA’s ‘Opportunity’ rover has gone silent during a violent dust storm on Mars, and engineers are hoping it will survive to extend its 14-year mission.

The dust storm blasting the red planet has more than doubled in size in the past week.  It now covers 15.8 million square miles, which is about the size of north America and Russia combined.

All that dust is turning day into what NASA calls “a dark, perpetual night,” and the tractor-sized solar-powered robot is right in the middle of it.  

Since last Wednesday, Opportunity has been operating in low-power mode, hunkering down and suspending all operations except for periodic system checks.  

Engineers received a transmission Sunday, but have been unable to contact Opportunity since.  

“Due to an extreme amount of dust over Perseverance Valley, mission engineers believe it is unlikely the rover has enough sunlight to charge back up for at least the next several days,” a Tuesday night NASA update explained.

At last word, the robot’s temperature was down to minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The storm is already worse than a 2007 storm that Opportunity survived.  But NASA said Wednesday it could be weeks or even months before the sky clears enough for sunlight to reach the Martian surface and recharge Opportunity's batteries through its solar panels.

Opportunity has spent the last 14 years on Mars, lasting much longer than the 90-day mission planned, covering 28 miles in the rocky red dust.

Its twin rover Spirit fell silent for good in 2010, likely due to extreme cold.

LINK: More photos & updates from Opportunity