Whopper dust storms on Mars are whipping up potential problems for the twin Mars rovers, Opportunity and Spirit. Opportunity in particular is getting less power from the sun because it's blocked by a dusty haze. To conserve Opportunity's power supply, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have told the rover to conduct only essential operations. Once the storm subsides, the plan is to have Opportunity descend into Victoria Crater, which could be a site of intriguing science discoveries.
Huge dust storms whip around Mars every 5 to 6 years. Scientists hope the rovers will weather this latest storm, and in fact, that they will learn a lot about Martian dust storms from observations made by the rovers, by NASA's orbiting Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and by the European Mars Express spacecraft.
More information on Spirit and Opportunity, which have been studying Mars for three-and-a-half years, is at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mer/index.html .
CUT 1 - RICHARD ZUREK, MARS PROGRAM SCIENTIST AT NASA'S JET PROPULSION LABORATORY IN PASADENA, SAYS THE ROVER OPPORTUNITY'S VIEW OF THE POWER-PROVIDING SUN IS DRASTICALLY REDUCED DURING THIS DUST STORM.
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Length: 15 seconds
OUT: "OR SCATTERED"
Transcript:"If you're at the rover, for instance, sitting on the surface, and you're looking up at the sky, you're not going to see the sun's disk, even during the day because the cloud, the dust haze, is thick enough that the sunlight has been either absorbed or scattered."
2 -RICHARD ZUREK EXPLAINS THAT ENGINEERS AT JPL HAVE TOLD OPPORTUNITY TO CONSERVE POWER BY ELIMINATING SCIENCE OBSERVATIONS AND NON-ESSENTIAL COMMUNICATIONS WITH EARTH.
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Length: 14 seconds
OUT: "SPACECRAFT ALIVE"
Transcript: "Right now, Opportunity is hunkered down. The dust opacity is larger at that site than it is at its companion site, at Spirit. And so it's only doing the very essential things that are needed to keep the spacecraft alive."