Wintry Doom Looms for Mars Spirit Rover

NASA's Mars Spirit Rover, now a stationary probe stuck in the sands of the Red Planet, may not survive the Martian Winter.

If you'll remember, Spirit suffered devastating wheel breakage late last year, and in January NASA officially christened the eternally immobilized rover as a "stationary probe," doomed to live of the remainder of its days stuck in the sand.

Then, on March 22, the probe entered an emergency hibernation mode and stopped communicating with NASA. It is the seventh year on-planet for Spirit, which is far, far beyond its original 90-day mission, but a looming Martian winter, coupled with an unfavorable solar panel angle (due to the position it is stuck in), could mean the rover's amazing mission is finally at an end.

Here's a quick NASA breakdown of the looming doom and gloom:

Heaters: NASA said that because Spirit is not getting enough juice to power its internal heaters, the winter months (minus 67 degrees Fahrenheit or worse) could tax its systems beyond recovery.

The clock is not ticking: While in hibernation mode, Spirit may experience "mission-clock fault" and lose track of absolute time, NASA reps said. If the rover wakes up and resets its mission clock in the process, hibernation mode could be extended to November and further lock out communications with home.

Chance of haziness: Insult to injury time! As with previous Martian winters, NASA expects the sky to get rather hazy. So, in addition to freezing temperatures, Spirit will have to deal with even less sunlight than it's enjoyed since March.

If there's a silver lining in all this it's that Spirit, as a stationary probe, could be used to track the planet's wobble and help scientists determine what the interior of Mars looks like. Liquid core? Solid core? All answerable, but only if Spirit awakens—and soon. [MSNBC]