Sunday, 26 May, 2019

Mars rover hunkers down in midst of giant dust storm

Nasa's brave Mars Rover could be killed by massive Martian dust storm Artist’s impression of a rover on the surface of Mars
Sandy Nunez | 14 June, 2018, 08:26

NASA has continued to track the storm from orbit and the surface. NASA's other active Mars rover, Curiosity, is better able to cope with the darkening storm because its power comes from a plutonium-fueled generator. Luckily, NASA engineers received a transmission from the rover on Sunday, which was a positive indication since it proved that the rover still has enough battery charge to communicate with controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We think we can ride this out for a while".

There is a chance that the extreme cold could put Opportunity out of action for good if the storm persists for too long.

If you were standing next to the 5-foot-tall rover and looked up into the sky, you wouldn't be able to see the sun.

What triggered that low-power mode is a powerful dust storm that has developed in the last two weeks.

Opportunity - which has been exploring the Martian surface for about 15 years - charges itself through solar panels that feed its batteries.

The opacity of the storm, an indication of how effectively it is blocking out sunlight, is at record levels for Opportunity, making it hard for the rover's solar arrays to fully charge its batteries. The rover has proved hardier than expected by lasting almost 15 years, despite being designed for a 90-day mission.

NASA engineers attempted to contact the Opportunity rover today but did not hear back from the almost 15-year old rover.

NASA said Opportunity's power levels had dropped "significantly" by Wednesday, June 6, requiring the rover to shift to minimal operations. "It's in its low-power mode, and it'll remain in that low-power mode until there's sufficient energy to charge the batteries back above a certain threshold", Callas said during the press conference.

The storm has blocked out so much sunlight that it has effectively turned day into night for Opportunity, which is located near the centre of the storm, inside Mars' Perseverance Valley.

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The most recent transmission from Opportunity "showed the rover's temperature to be about minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 degrees Celsius)", NASA said in a status report. "We are listening every day for possible signals from the rover", he said, likening the atmosphere among colleagues to having a loved one lying in a coma. "By no means are we out of the wood here".

A vast dust storm larger than the entire North American continent is now raging on Mars-and it has forced NASA to suspend the scientific operations of its Opportunity rover.

Opportunity has lived an incredible life on Mars.

Spirit kept functioning until it got stuck in 2009 and stopped communications the next year.

Both landers were built to last at least three months in the harsh environment of Mars and while mission managers were hopeful they would exceed their design life, there were no guarantees. The rovers found evidence of past volcanic activity, water flows, and meteor impacts.

The Opportunity Rover was as only created to survive for 90 days on the surface of Mars but has kept on trundling for 15 years.

The storm has blanketed 14 million square miles of Mars, or about a quarter of the planet, which is now inhabited only by active and inactive robots.

NASA will hold a teleconference today at 1:30 p.m. EDT (1730 GMT) to discuss the Martian dust storm, its impact on Opportunity and how scientists are tracking it with spacecraft in orbit.