Published: Wed, June 13, 2018
Science | By

NASA's MER-B Threatened by Vast Dust Storm

NASA's MER-B Threatened by Vast Dust Storm

The basic process for finding Martian organic compounds can be boiled down to two steps - separate organic molecules from the Martian rocks and sediments and give them an electric charge so they can be detected and identified by the mass spectrometer, NASA said. Originally, its mission was only supposed to last 90 days.

In what could be a very important announcement in our search for life on other planets, NASA has revealed that they have discovered what could be the "building blocks" of ancient life on the Red Planet.

As per a statement by NASA officials, they said that when they have spotted the storm, they notified the rover's team to get prepared for the contingency plans and in some days the storm has ballooned. It didn't take long for the dust storm to grow in size to cover more than 7 million square miles (11.2 million square kilometers), which is larger than North America.

Scientists gauge the strength of a dust storm using the unit tau, a measurement of the atmosphere's opacity. NASA compared the conditions to "an extremely smoggy day that blots out sunlight".

Mars is the most Earth-like planet in our solar system
GETTYMars is the most Earth-like planet in our solar system

If that is not enough, and power levels drop to a specific, low level, Opportunity would trip what is known as a low-power fault program, disabling the rover's batteries and putting Opportunity into sleep mode until sufficient available energy returns to wake it up.

"Full dust storms like this one are not surprising but are infrequent".

"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. "They can appear unexpectedly but last for weeks or even months". There is a fear that if the rover's power stays down for too long, the Martian cold could damage Opportunity, which has been exploring Mars since 2004. And it's seen dust storms bigger than the one it's experiencing now. Since the nights on Mars can get as cold as -225° F (-143° C), Opportunity's systems would freeze and never be able to restart again, as likely happened to its sister Spirit rover in 2010. There's much less light available to recharge the batteries this time, so the Opportunity team is hoping for a shorter storm. The updrafts of dust can trigger more winds, triggering a feedback loop that fuels the birth of a dust storm. It's unclear when the storm will eventually subside, but even if the storm ultimately doomed Opportunity it would have already vastly outlived its original mission. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught sight of the developing bad weather, and the orbiter team passed on a warning to the Opportunity team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.

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