NASA’s Curiosity rover has beamed back pictures of a dust storm that has engulfed much of Mars over the last two weeks and prompted NASA’s Opportunity rover to suspend science operations.
However, the Curiosity rover, which has been studying Martian soil at Gale Crater, is expected to remain largely unaffected by the dust. While Opportunity is powered by sunlight, which is blotted out by dust at its current location, Curiosity has a nuclear-powered battery that runs day and night.
The Martian dust storm has grown in size and is now officially a “planet-encircling” dust event. Though Curiosity is on the other side of Mars from Opportunity, dust has steadily increased over it, more than doubling over the weekend.
The last storm of global magnitude that enveloped Mars was in 2007, five years before Curiosity landed there. Daily photos are being captured by the Curiosity rover’s Mast Camera, or Mastcam, show the sky getting hazier. This sun-obstructing wall of haze is about six to eight times thicker than normal for this time of season.
Curiosity’s engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have studied the potential for the growing dust storm to affect the rover’s instruments, and say it poses little risk.