Epic dust storm on Mars now completely covers the Red Planet

By Tariq Malik
June 21, 2018, 5:19:25 PM EDT

On Mars, the sky is dust.

A massive dust storm on Mars that covered one-fourth of the planet just a week ago has grown into a global weather event, NASA officials said Wednesday (June 20).

The dust storm has knocked NASA's Opportunity rover offline for want of sunlight. The agency's nuclear-powered Curiosity, meanwhile, is snapping photos of the ever-darkening Martian sky. The two rovers are on opposite sides of Mars.

"The Martian dust storm has grown in size and is now officially a 'planet-encircling' (or 'global') dust event," NASA officials said in a statement.

Mars dust

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity snapped this self-portrait on June 15, 2018 at Gale Crater during a growing dust storm. Since then, the dust storm has engulfed all of Mars.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The last dust storm on Mars to go global occurred in 2007, five years before the Curiosity rover landed at its Gale Crater site, according to officials with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. The Opportunity rover has been exploring the plains of Meridiani Planum on the opposite side of Mars since 2004. During that 2007 Martian dust storm, NASA also lost contact with Opportunity for days due to low power levels from the lack of sunlight.

NASA lost contact with Opportunity last week when it missed a check-in call on June 12. NASA engineers think the rover is in a low-power mode, waking up only periodically to check if its batteries have recharged enough to phone home. All science operations by the rover are suspended while it waits out the storm.

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