Saturday, June 30, 2007

Dust storm threatens rovers

A powerful new dust storm is developing on Mars and may threaten the safety of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. The storm is thought to now be several thousand miles in diameter and is some 560 miles (900 KM) east of Opportunity, which is presently working at Meridiani Planum. The fear is that the storm will become global in nature, as last happened in October 2001, when a giant storm blanketed the entire planet in an impenetrable gloom. Ironically, high winds have been the saviour of the rovers before, as dust accumulating on their solar panels appears to have been blown off, restoring power that had been steadily in decline. The storm is not yet big enough to worry mission planners unduly, but a press conference called for Thursday will discuss the possibility that a planned drive by Opportunity into the massive Victoria Crater may be cancelled.