Martian dust storm puts Nasa's Opportunity rover into sleep mode

Martian dust storm puts Nasa's Opportunity rover into sleep mode

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A massive dust storm raging across Mars has overcome Nasa's aging Opportunity rover, putting the unmanned, solar-powered vehicle into sleep mode and raising concerns about its survival, the US space agency has said.

The unusually severe dust storm has blocked out the Sun over one quarter of the Red Planet, blanketing an area spanning 14 million square miles (35 million square kilometres), Nasa said yesterday.

Opportunity, located in a spot called Perseverance Valley, "has fallen asleep and is waiting out the storm," said John Callas, Opportunity project manager at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"We are concerned but we are hopeful that the storm will clear and the rover will be able to communicate with us." The storm was first detected on May 30, and grew worse in recent days.

The robotic vehicle -- one of two currently operating on Mars -- has shut everything down except its master clock, and last communicated with Earth on June 10.

Callas declared a "spacecraft emergency" due to low power.

"In this point we are in a waiting mode. We are listening every day for possible signals from the rover," he said, likening the atmosphere among colleagues to having a loved one lying in a coma.

"If it was your 97-year-old grandmother, you would be very concerned. And we are," he said.

Opportunity, along with its twin named Spirit, launched in 2003 and landed on Mars a year later to h...

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