NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provided the earliest insights on May 30 when it observed an accumulation of dust in the atmosphere near Perseverance Valley, where NASA’s Opportunity rover is exploring. The increasingly hazy storm, the biggest since 2007, forced Opportunity to shut down science operations by June 8, given that sunlight couldn’t penetrate the dust to power the rover’s solar panels. Scientists are anxiously waiting for the roving explorer to regain power and phone home.
Meanwhile, on June 5, evidence quietly materialized on the other side of the globe that the storm was growing and beginning to affect Gale Crater, the research site of NASA’s Curiosity rover. (The storm was officially classified as global on June 20.)
It came from an unexpected source: an actuator, or motor, that powers a lid to a funnel that takes in samples of powdered Martian rock dropped in by Curiosity’s drill. The samples then undergo chemical analysis by the portable Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) chemistry lab, designed by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and built into Curiosity’s belly
Benito Prats, a Goddard electromechanical engineer, noticed the dust storm slowly reaching Curiosity through the continuous temperature readings he collected from actuator sensors