It’s only been a few days since NASA held a highly-anticipated press briefing to tell the world that it found organic compounds on Mars that may be a sign of previous life on the planet. That was some pretty incredible news with potentially history-making implications, but the impromptu teleconference NASA just scheduled for later today is a bit more depressing. Scientists will meet at 1:30 p.m. EDT today to discuss the massive dust storm that has rolled across a large portion of the planet and swallowed NASA’s Opportunity rover in the process.
The storm is absolutely massive, spanning an area larger than North America, and NASA’s elderly rover is caught right in the middle of it all. Will the rover survive? Will it have to dig itself out of a dusty dune? Is Opportunity ultimately doomed? We may find out later today.
NASA makes no bones about just how dire the situation is. “The storm is one of the most intense ever observed on the Red Planet,” NASA says. “As of June 10, it covered more than 15.8 million square miles (41 million square kilometers) — about the area of North America and Russia combined. It has blocked out so much sunlight, it has effectively turned day into night for Opportunity, which is located near the center of the storm, inside Mars’ Perseverance Valley.”
Opportunity runs on sunlight, which is in very short supply in the center of the storm. The rover has already entered a low-power state to preserve itself, only waking from time to time to see if the skies have cleared and its batteries are recharged. NASA expects the storm to continue for several days, or maybe longer, and nobody knows exactly what the landscape will look like when the dust clouds settle.
To give us all a better idea of how things will play out, NASA is brining together scientists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and various Mars-related programs. The event will be live streamed on NASA’s website as well as its YouTube channel. You’ll be able to watch the stream in the YouTube window embedded above, and it’s expected to start at 1:30 p.m. EDT.