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The team is now operating under the assumption that the charge in Opportunity's batteries has dipped below 24 volts and the rover has entered low power fault mode, a condition where all subsystems, except a mission clock, are turned off. Due to an extreme amount of dust, mission engineers believe it is unlikely the rover has enough sunlight to charge for at least the next several days.

When the storm struck, Opportunity was tooling around near a channel to see if it might have been created by flowing water, wind erosion, or something else. Though the mission was only supposed to last 90 days, Opportunity is approaching its 15th year there.

The clock is programmed to rouse the rover at periodic intervals to check whether light levels are sufficient to wake up - a state called "solar groovy".

The scientists also said that the Curiosity rover, which is in Gale Crater, should be fine.

This is a "spacecraft emergency", Mars Exploration Rover project manager John Callas said Wednesday. NASA recently launched towards Mars the Insight lander-and two tiny CubeSats, satellites that are 14.4 by 9.5 by 4.6 inches when packed tight.

NASA's scientific Opportunity robotic rover Opportunity has been found in the midst of a bad sandstorm on Mars, which has forced it to silence and no longer communicate with the Earth, and there are fears about its own survival.

Studying why these storms appear in some years but not others could help scientists better understand the red planet's past, and help them prepare for future exploration, he added.

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By June 6, the rover was put into a temporary power-saving mode, one that would save energy but provide just enough activity to keep the rover warm.

The current storm above Opportunity, which is still growing, now blankets 14 million square miles (35 million square kilometers) of Martian surface - about a quarter of the planet.

"Each observation of these large storms brings us closer to being able to model these events-and maybe, someday, being able to forecast them", Rich Zurek, chief scientist for the Mars Program Office at JPL in California, said.

A record dust storm has been swirling on Mars for almost two weeks. However, the current storm is twice as opaque as the 2007 one, providing even less marginal sunlight.

Before and after photos snapped a month apart by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor reveal the intensity of the raging storm.

Mars features a very thin atmosphere that is conducive to dust storms. "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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