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Sunday, July 8, 2007

Dust Storm Threatens Rovers

A storm covering the entire southern hemisphere could lead to the end of the MER mission. The storm, blotting out almost all sunlight, it is causing the rovers to run on battery power. "This is a scary storm," said Mark Lemmon, a planetary scientist at Texas A&M University and member of the rover team. "If it gets any worse, we'll enter into some uncharted territory. There's been a lot of discussion about what we're going to do if (the rovers) don't have enough power to run during the day." "This thing has been breaking records the past few days. The sun is 100 times fainter than normal," he said. "We're hoping for a big break in the storm soon, but that's just a hope." In two weeks the storm went from 600,000 square km to 18 million square km. Another, "smaller" storm of 7.7 million square km has also formed. This makes the storm larger than the US, Canada, and Greenland.

"The worst-case scenario is that enough dust in the sky decreases solar energy to the point that we have to shut down too many things to save power," Lemmon said. "The rovers keep their battery alive by keeping their electronics alive." "It's like leaving your laptop out in an Antarctic winter," John Callas, of JPL, said. "Soldered joints in the electronics can contract due to thermal contraction. If a rover gets too cold, something essential will fail."

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- posted by Jim @ 13:10 EST