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Sci-Tech

NASA: Storm that silenced Mars Opportunity rover has finally settled

The space agency continues to reach out to the clammed-up Opportunity after the skies have cleared.

oppyselfie

Opportunity snapped this selfie in 2014 after winds cleaned dust off its solar panels.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

NASA's solar-powered Opportunity rover has had a rough year. The machine went silent in June when a global dust storm engulfed the planet and cut off its access to sunlight. The good news is the storm has finally cleared completely. The bad news is the rover is still silent.

NASA posted a mission update covering late October into early November, noting the rover site is now storm free. 

The space agency measures the atmospheric opacity, known as "tau," to determine how much dust is swirling around in the Martian sky. It's at a level of 0.8, down from 10.8 on June 10, when NASA last heard from the rover. NASA uses its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to monitor the atmosphere from above.

Communication attempts continue. NASA has sent over 250 recovery commands to the rover, with no response. We are in a windy season for Mars, which gives some hope that winds could clean off Opportunity's solar panels and allow it to recharge and get back in touch with Earth.

Opportunity has had an impressive run on Mars since landing on the planet in 2004. NASA has not yet set a deadline for ending or reducing communication efforts. It will reevaluate Opportunity's situation in January.