Dust storms can block out the sun for days, making it near impossible for the rover to recharge. It has covered Perseverance Valley, where Opportunity is now located, and has blotted out the sunlight.
Scientists are anxious the rover won't survive this storm, but there's still hope. The measured opacity level of the current storm is 10.8, almost double that of the 2007 event and temperatures in the region have dropped to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 degrees Celsius).
Opportunity's team has requested additional communications coverage from NASA's Deep Space Network, a global system of antennas that talks to all the agency's deep space probes. The latest data transmission showed the rover's temperature is about minus 29 degrees Celsius.
Dust storms occur frequently on Mars and can transform into planet-encircling dust storms in a matter of days.
Presently, engineers will monitor Opportunity's power levels closely in the week to come.
Despite limited sunlight to charge its battery, Opportunity also needs to deal with sub-freezing temperatures on Mars. Though Opportunity was created to only operate for 90 days, it has continued to explore the planet for over 15 years.
A massive Mars dust storm, which has covered an area greater than all of North America, threatens to undo NASA's work on the red planet, warned scientists.
After NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted the dust storm gathering pace on June 7, its team notified the Opportunity rover team, helping the officials to quickly embark on a contingency plan for the rover.
According to NASA, as of Friday (June 8), storm covers over 18 million square kilometres of Mars.
Scientists gauge the strength of a dust storm using the unit tau, a measurement of the atmosphere's opacity. This is comparable to an extremely smoggy day that blots out sunlight. About every 26 months, it's summer on Mars, meaning prime dust storm season. The agency had to switch to two weeks of minimal operations and cut off contact with rover for days in order to save power.
NASA's Opportunity has been exploring Mars since 2004, but it functions on solar power.
"It's not unlike running a vehicle in the winter so that the cold doesn't sap its battery charge", NASA writes in a release. If the storm lasts too long, the main concern will be the Martian cold, a danger Opportunity has faced in the past, NASA officials said. The rover was only created to last 90 days but has vastly exceeded expectation, and is now in its 14 year on the Martian surface. The rover has been operated for more than 50 times longer than originally planned. The blue dot below is where NASA thinks Opportunity is located in the storm. The updrafts of dust can trigger more winds, triggering a feedback loop that fuels the birth of a dust storm.