The Rover Opportunity "fell asleep" due to a discharged battery

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The agency expects Opportunity shifted into a "low power fault mode", which disables all systems except the mission clock, reducing power usage from scarce energy stored in its batteries.

Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit, which arrived the same month, both carrying a suite of scientific instruments to study the terrain, operated on opposite sides of the planet. The NASA spokesman said that the storm is of unprecedented severity. Even in the worst of storms, only a layer of fine dust is left behind.

"The rover's mission clock is programmed to wake the computer so it can check power levels".

Even on the opposite side of the planet, where the Curiosity rover is parked at Gale Crater, the thick red haze nearly completely obscures the horizon.

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"By no means are we out of the woods here", Opportunity project manager John Callas said yesterday.

NASA officials announced on June 13 that they were suspending science operations for the rover due to the week-and-a-half long storm, instead using four other spacecrafts to learn about the Mars climate from the swirling dust.

Another NASA rover called Curiosity, which arrived on Mars in 2012, does not face the same level of threat from the storm, which was detected on May 30.

Opportunity would normally be able to generate over 600 watt-hours of energy per day with its panels at this time of the Martian year - which at its station is entering the northern hemisphere summer. Occasionally, they can balloon into regional storms in a matter of days, and sometimes even expand until they envelop the planet. The last Martian dust storm occurred in 2007.

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It's not like a desert storm shifting large sand dunes, more like talcum powder lofted into atmosphere and distributed around the globe, said Jim Watzin, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters.

A huge dust storm has blanketed about a quarter of the surface of Mars.

Dust storms are a well known phenomenon on Mars, but they are infrequent. "Each offers a unique look at how dust storms form and behave - knowledge that will be essential for future robotic and human missions".

A record dust storm has been swirling on Mars for almost two weeks. The Martian atmosphere is so thin that while the wind can lift dust off the surface, it doesn't topple a spacecraft.

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And there isn't any danger of the rover being buried by dust, although clearing it off once the storm subsides may be another challenge. "But regardless of how this turns out, this little rover has proven to be an invaluable investment that has greatly increased our ability to explore the Red Planet".

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