NASA Encounters the Perfect Storm for Science

This imager, built and operated by Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, can create daily global maps of the planet that track how storms evolve, not unlike weather satellites that track hurricanes here on Earth.

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One of the thickest dust storms ever observed on Mars has been spreading for the past week and a half. The storm has caused NASA’s Opportunity rover to suspend science operations, but also offers a window for four other spacecraft to learn from the swirling dust.

NASA has three orbiters circling the Red Planet, each equipped with special cameras and other atmospheric instruments. Additionally, NASA’s Curiosity rover has begun to see an increase in dust at its location in Gale Crater.

“This is the ideal storm for Mars science,” said Jim Watzin, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “We have a historic number of spacecraft operating at the Red Planet. Each offers a unique look at how dust storms form and behave — knowledge that will be essential for future robotic and human missions.”

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NASA’s Opportunity Rover Encounters Massive Dust Storm on Mars

The storm that the Opportunity rover is currently going through on the Red Planet is so severe that the dust is blocking out the light coming from the Sun, making it hard for the rover to charge its solar panels that powers the internal battery.

Currently, NASA’s engineers are waiting to see if the rover can survive the storm and still function once it settles.

However, the good news is that Opportunity is a hardy space bot and has lasted for more than 14 years on Mars, which is much longer than the three-month mission that was initially planned. Even more, the rover survived another dust storm back in 2007, which makes engineers hope for the best and trust that it will survive this just as well.

  • Publisher: Air Herald
  • Date: 2018-06-12T15:00:19Z
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Catching Stardust: A Comprehensive Exploration of Comets and Asteroids

Natalie Starkey has been actively involved in space science research for more than 10 years. She has been involved in sample-return space missions, such as NASA Stardust and JAXA Hayabusa, and she was invited to be a co-investigator on one of the instrument teams for the groundbreaking ESA Rosetta comet mission.

Her new book, "Catching Stardust," examines what we're discovering about comets and asteroids — how we learn about them and what the dusty, icy rocks have to share about the origins of the solar system. Read a Q&A with Starkey about her new book here.

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