Storms on Mars halt rovers

Times Staff Writer

A major 3-week-old dust storm on Mars has paralyzed NASA twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity -- and it doesn’t appear the storm will end anytime soon.

“This is by far the worst storm the rovers have ever seen,” said John Callas, project manager for the rovers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge.

The rovers, which rely on solar energy, must remain inactive when dust blocks out the sun.


Every day, the rovers power up to measure how much light is getting through. Before this summer, the worst conditions they had recorded was a storm that blocked 80% of sunlight.

The current weather is blocking more than 99% of sunlight. “Now it’s all about saving power,” Callas said.

For the first time in more than three years on Mars, one of the rovers will not communicate with Earth daily. Callas’ group configured Opportunity to check in every three days. Opportunity is of concern because a heater that has been stuck on since the rover landed is draining power. Spirit is still communicating with Earth every day.

Temperatures around the rovers have dropped to minus 76 degrees. The electronics must remain warmer than minus 40.