NASA's Mars Rover Still Not Talking to Earth

Mars Rover Opportunity
An artist's representation of Opportunity, which hasn't contacted Earth in two months. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Opportunity, a Mars robotic rover, was shaken up by a recent dust storm—and now Earth has lost touch with it.

NASA sent Opportunity to Mars in 2003, hoping it would help in the quest to find water on the red planet. But a dust storm in early June blocked the rover's ability to contact Earth. The storm covered more than 14 million square miles of Mars, which represents a fourth of the planet and an area larger than the African continent.

"Full dust storms like this one are not surprising but are infrequent," NASA officials said in a statement. "They can crop up suddenly but last weeks, even months."

Opportunity runs on solar power, so when large clouds of dust block its view of the sun, it can't do what it's supposed to or contact NASA back on Earth. This isn't the first time Opportunity has faced such a challenge. When an even bigger dust storm hit the planet in 2007, Opportunity went into standby mode and didn't contact NASA for two weeks to preserve energy. This time, NASA hasn't heard from Opportunity for two months.

"Morale has been a little shaky," Michael Staab of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory told Space.com. "This is the first time she [Opportunity] has stopped talking to us and not resumed communication when we expected."

According to Space.com, the NASA team has been playing Wham!'s "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" to the rover, hoping the song might revive and inspire it to contact Earth. The team played music for the rover when it first landed on Mars in 2004 but eventually stopped the tradition. So far, the music hasn't worked.

While the storm has cleared up over the past two weeks, scientists can't say how long it will take Opportunity to recharge—or if it ever will.

Opportunity has made many discoveries since it first arrived on Mars almost 15 years ago, especially regarding water. It found the mineral hematite, which usually forms in water, as well as veins of gypsum, which likely formed when water ran through underground fractures in the rocks, according to NASA. The rover has also traveled into craters, visiting more than 100 since landing on the planet. Given the number of years Opportunity has roamed the planet, it has provided NASA with information about how the Martian environment changes over time.

As to when NASA might hear from Opportunity again, Staab told Space.com, "It could take weeks—hopefully not months. I wish we had something to share; I wish we had good news. But we keep listening every day."