Mars rover still silent as red planet dust storm goes global

NASA's Curiosity rover took a badass Mars selfie during a huge dust storm

NASA's Curiosity rover took a badass Mars selfie during a huge dust storm

Without sunlight, the solar-powered Opportunity can only hunker down and wait for the sky to clear. However, the Curiosity rover, which has been studying Martian soil at Gale Crater, is expected to remain largely unaffected by the dust.

The Martian dust storm has grown in size and is now officially a "planet-encircling" dust event. Tau was last measured near 11 over Opportunity, thick enough that accurate measurements are no longer possible for Mars' oldest active rover.

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.

It's unknown how long this dust storm will last, though previous Martian dust storms have persisted for weeks to months.

Scientists measure the amount of sunlight-blocking haze in the Martian atmosphere as "tau", with the current tau at Curiosity's Gale Crater site reaching above 8.0, JPL officials said the NASA statement.

In the meantime, NASA scientists are maintaining a full-court press the Martian dust storm. Mars hasn't seen a storm like this since 2007. The European Space Agency also has two spacecraft in orbit (Mars Express and the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter).

On Wednesday, NASA announced the storm has progressed from a continent-sized tempest to an event that has engulfed the entire red planet.

"We don't have any good idea", said Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Guzewich is leading the Curiosity rover's dust storm work. This sun-obstructing wall of haze is about six to eight times thicker than normal for this time of season.

The largest impact is to the rover's cameras, which require extra exposure time due to the low lighting. One photo also shows a curious lack of shadows. When Curiosity is not taking pictures, the rover rotates its mast-mounted Mastcam camera to face the ground to protect it from blowing dust, they added.

You can get updates about the dust storm, and Opportunity's status, at NASA's Mars Storm Watch page.

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