A giant dust storm that has been gradually creeping across the surface of Mars has now engulfed the entire planet, according to Nasa. This “planet-encircling” event would cover an area the size of North America and Russia combined if it were taking place on Earth. The storm has already prompted fears Nasa’s Opportunity rover has died on the surface of the Red Planet after it ceased all communications with engineers on Earth in early June.
Launched in 2003 as part of the space agency’s Mars exploration programme, the robot’s solar panels have been blotted out by the encroaching dust storm. Nasa has reassured observers that its other rover, Curiosity, is safe on the other side of the planet as it has “a nuclear-powered battery that runs day and night”.
Meanwhile, dust from the ongoing storm has steadily increased around Opportunity, more than doubling in volume over the weekend. Nasa scientists said it may be months until there is enough light on the planet's surface to charge the rover’s batteries and get it performing its scientific duties once again. If the rover is not able to recharge, it may lose contact with Earth completely and be declared lost, bringing an end to its 15-year mission.
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