A giant dust storm that now covers nearly the entire southern hemisphere of Mars could permanently jeopardize the future of the Mars Exploration Rovers mission, officials told SPACE.com today.
The new and potentially bleak outlook is a stark shift from the prognosis earlier this week. Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems said in e-mail interview that a smaller, second dust storm has recently appeared on the Red Planet, further compounding the threat to the rovers.
The largest dusty squall has reduced direct sunlight to Mars' surface by nearly 99 percent, an unprecedented threat for the solar-powered robotic explorers. If the storm keeps up and thickens with even more dust, officials fear the rovers' batteries may empty and silence the robotic explorers forever.
We've gotten way more out of these robots than was ever expected, and humanity's knowledge of the Red Planet has burgeoned because of these missions. The importance of the rovers cannot be overstated.