Massive Dust Storm On Mars Strikes NASA’s Opportunity Rover

Conducting research is pretty tough with dust and debris flying around, but being caught in the storm isn't just a bummer from a scientific standpoint; Opportunity's power comes from batteries linked to solar panels, and those solar panels don't work well when the skies aren't clear. The dust in the atmosphere is impacting the amount of power generated by the rover's solar panels. "That wind kicks up yet more dust, creating a feedback loop that NASA scientists still seek to understand".

As of June 10, the storm had almost doubled the level of atmospheric opacity, or darkness, experienced by the rover in 2007, measured in tau. In 2007, an even larger dust storm swept through the Red Planet, resulting in two weeks of minimal operations that included several days with no contact to save power. The rover was only created to last 90 days, yet here we are more than a decade later, a still-functioning Opportunity on Mars. However, NASA says the plucky little rover remains operational, and the team hopes it will meet this challenge as it has so many others. According to Space.com, the dust storm was first spotted earlier this week, and in a matter of days, has ballooned to cover an area of up to 7 million square miles. 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 higher that number climbs, the worse the situation becomes for Opportunity.

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

The temperature in Perseverance Valley, the rover's current location, is around -20 degrees F (-29 degrees C). 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. It means there's still enough charge left in the batteries to communicate with home, despite the fact that the storm is continuing to worsen.

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.

"Engineers will monitor the rover's power levels closely in the week to come".

NASA's Opportunity rover has spent well over 5,000 days on Mars, and has survived well past its initial 90 day mission and outlived its inactive sister rover, Spirit. Without the heaters, the rover's batteries would likely fail and doom the mission. Schiaparelli ended up crashing into the Martian surface, but TGO arrived safely and recently settled into its final orbit.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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