Huge Dust Storm on Mars Hits NASA's Opportunity Rover
Huge Dust Storm on Mars Hits NASA's Opportunity Rover
Huge Dust Storm on Mars Sidelines NASA's Opportunity Rover
12 June, 2018, 11:08
Critically, the dust raised the atmospheric opacity in Perseverance Valley, and Opportunity's power levels dropped significantly by Wednesday, 6 June, requiring the rover to shift to minimal operations.
In case you're wondering, NASA's Curiosity rover is nowhere near Opportunity and is not now threatened by the dust storm.
Now, NASA engineers are waiting to see if the Opportunity rover will be able to weather the storm. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught sight of the developing bad weather, and the orbiter team passed on a warning to the Opportunity team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. The 2007 storm produced a tau value of 5.5, while the current storm has already produced a tau of 10.8.
The dust has blotted out the Sun in many regions, including Opportunity's current location at Perseverance Valley.
'Sunday's transmission was especially good news considering the dust storm has intensified in the past several days, ' NASA said.
Dust storms were always a potential hazard for Opportunity due to the fact that it gathers and generates its power via sunlight reaching its critical solar panels that cover the majority of the "top" of the rover.
It's hard to complain about Earth weather once you realize just how insane it can get on Mars. The dust in the atmosphere is impacting the amount of power generated by the rover's solar panels. And it's seen dust storms bigger than the one it's experiencing now. During summer in the south, the Sun warms dust particles, causing them to rise up higher into the sky.
For the time being, NASA has temporarily shut down any scientific operations, which means turning off most instruments attached to the spacecraft. In 2007 a much larger dust storm covered the entire Martian surface, forcing the rover to switch to minimal operations for a whole two weeks.
The hope is that that won't be the case this time around, but storms are believed to have claimed Opportunity's twin rover, Spirit.
In an update on Sunday, June 10th, NASA offered some reassuring news, saying that Opportunity had managed to send a brief message home earlier in the day despite the increasing peril. If the situation continues to worsen, the next step would be to suspend Opportunity's communications with Earth to save additional power.
The rover could soon dip into its battery reserves and, not long after, it may be unable to communicate with engineers.
As with the 2007 dust storm event, there is a very real possibility that should a low-power fault program trip and Opportunity goes to sleep that the rover will not wake up again.
It will be balancing low levels of battery charge and sub-freezing temperatures. Part of the equipment onboard is a survival heater system, which kick in to keep the batteries at a certain temperature rather than allowing them to get unduly cold.
Opportunity (and Spirit) landed on the Red Planet in January 2004.
That's because Opportunity - like NASA's other Martian robots - relies on sunlight for power.
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