More building blocks of life found on Mars

Katie Ramirez
June 13, 2018

The Mars 2020 rover, whose body is based heavily on that of Curiosity, will also collect and cache samples for eventual return to Earth, where scientists could scrutinize them for any evidence of native Martians.

In an update on Sunday, June 10th, NASA offered some reassuring news, saying that Opportunity had managed to send a brief message home earlier in the day despite the increasing peril. Though Opportunity was created to only operate for 90 days, it has continued to explore the planet for over 15 years.

An enormous dust storm on Mars has suspended NASA's exploration rover Opportunity from conducting scientific work, the US space agency said Sunday in a statement. "In a matter of days, the storm had ballooned", explained NASA's spokespersons in an official statement. Rovers like Opportunity rely on sunlight to charge their solar panels and batteries.

Opportunity runs using solar power, and it has been on mars and exploring it since 2004. According to a release from the agency, on June 8, it spanned more than North America, covering a whopping 7 million square miles (18 million square kilometers) area on the planet.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which reached a milestone of its own a year ago with its 50,000th orbit of the Red Planet, first detected the massive dust storm on June 1.

Moreso, the storm's atmospheric opacity - the veil of dust which blots out sunlight - is now much worse than the 2007 storm that Opportunity weathered. It's not unlike running a vehicle in the winter so that the cold doesn't sap its battery charge.

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While Green is confident that humankind will get to Mars within a couple of decades - NASA's target is 2040 - he explains that there are now significant obstacles to reaching this goal.

As epic as this storm is, it's still smaller than a 2007 storm that forced Opportunity to hunker down for two weeks. They can start out of nowhere and continue for days or maybe even months.

NASA touts the rover's durability in lasting almost 15 years in action despite being designed for a 90-day mission.

The two things that the team needs to balance are maintaining low power consumption for Opportunity while it is not able to recharge due to the dust storm, and the energy-intensive heaters that protect the rover's batteries from the extreme cold of Mars.

"The question of whether life might have originated or existed on Mars is a lot more opportune now that we know that organic molecules were present on its surface at that time". The updrafts of dust can trigger more winds, triggering a feedback loop that fuels the birth of a dust storm.

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