NASA has published its latest update on the Mars dust storm, saying it is now spanning the entire Red Planet. The storm has been underway for about two weeks, blotting out the Sun and forcing the solar-powered Opportunity rover into a deep sleep mode as it clings to the last of its energy reservers. The Curiosity rover, meanwhile, remains unaffected by the event.
NASA uses the term “planet-encircling,” perhaps better stated simply as a “global dust event.” This is due to a growth in the storm’s size, with it ultimately carrying some dust to Curiosity’s location on the other side of the planet. Over the weekend, NASA explains, the dust level on Curiosity’s side more than doubled.
This has resulted in a tau rating of 8.0 in the Gale Crater, which is the highest that mission has ever recorded during its time on the planet. Opportunity’s tau rating, meanwhile, hit nearly 11, the threshold at which point the rover won’t be able to make any additional accurate measurements.
Curiosity continues to capture images of the dust storm using its Mast Camera, giving researchers a look at the world as it exists at any given point. Images show the haziness increasing, hinting that this storm may just be getting started; it is possible that it could last months before finally ending. However, it likely doesn’t pose a risk to Curiosity.
Unlike the older Opportunity rover, which is powered by solar panels, Curiosity features a nuclear-powered battery, according to NASA. At its present size, NASA says this dust storm — if it were happening our own planet — would be larger than both North America and Russia combined.