Saturday, 18 August, 2018

Mars Rover Opportunity Hunkers Down During Dust Storm

Martian Dust Storm Huge Dust Storm on Mars Sidelines NASA's Opportunity Rover
Cary Marshall | 13 June, 2018, 21:00

"There is a risk to the rover if the storm persists for too long and Opportunity gets too cold while waiting for the skies to clear". The dust in the atmosphere is impacting the amount of power generated by the rover's solar panels. During the time, the rover stopped phoning in to NASA to save power, defying NASA scientists who had anxious if the rover would be able to power its vital survival heaters with the low power levels caused by that dust storm.

The current dust storm, however, is not the first one that Opportunity will go through while on Mars. 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). Back in 2007, Opportunity came through a two-week storm unscathed.

The Opportunity rover uses solar panels for power and to recharge its batteries, and by June 6, its power levels had dropped significantly.

According to NASA, as of Friday (June 8), storm covers over 18 million square kilometres of Mars. The small blue dot in the below image of the storm (click to enlarge) indicates Opportunity's location in Perseverance Valley. The previous storm had an opacity level just above 5.5.

A statement put out by the space agency has detailed the circumstances that Opportunity is facing now.

More news: U.S. and N Korean leaders to visit each other's countries

This latest data transmission showed the rover's temperature to be about minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 degrees Celsius). When NASA's Mariner 9 orbiter arrived at Mars in 1971, there was a storm so great that it engulfed the entire planet and left the surface blotted out for two months. If the situation continues to worsen, the next step would be to suspend Opportunity's communications with Earth to save additional power.

All the same, there are perils involved: the rover can't stay powered-down forever.

Despite limited sunlight to charge its battery, Opportunity also needs to deal with sub-freezing temperatures on Mars. The team handling the operations thought it won't be able to maintain a balance between low power and energy-intensive heaters created to protect its batteries from the Martian cold.

NASA announced on Friday that the Opportunity rover is now being hit by the worst dust storm it's ever experienced in the 15 years since it landed on Mars. Without the heaters, the rover's batteries would likely fail and doom the mission. Curiosity has been drilling the surface of the Gale Carter on Mars for a long time and now when the rock samples were analyzed by the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM), they were found to be composed of organic matter.

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