December 9, 2022

Opportunity rover battles a massive dust storm. NASA’s concerns

NASA reported that the Opportunity rover is in the middle of a huge dust storm covering a quarter of the planet. The team working on the rover has lost contact with it, and researchers fear the machine may never wake up again.

The Opportunity rover, actually the Mars Exploration Rover-B (MER-B), was launched into orbit in July 2003. Opportunity landed on the Red Planet on January 25, year póLater. Since then, MER-B has been sending invaluable information about Mars – Its geological and chemical past. Opportnity has already exceeded its planned mission time by more than 50 times, but the current dust storm could end it definitively – NASA engineers fear.

Opportunity encountered problems in recent days, when it came to face a powerful Martian storm covering a quarter of the planet. The storm limited the sunlight reaching the Martian surface, preventing the batteries from recharging. Currently, the rover remains in a dormant state. Only the mission clock is running, whichóry regularly wakes up the machine to check power levels. syndromeół of NASA fears it may not turn on again.

– We are concerned, but we are still hopeful that the storm will pass quickly and the rover will start communicating with us – said John Callas, Opportunity’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

Opportunity has seen a lot during its 14-year stay on Mars, and this is not its first dust storm. In 2007, after a major dust storm, the rover went quiet for four days. But then the compositeół controlling the mission had authority over the rover. Silence was the choice, prób by conservation of energy. The rover’s current situation is different.

The storm was first observed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) probe orbiting the Red Planet on May 30, and has been growing rapidly since then. In two or three days it will most likely cover the entire planet with its size. A storm covering the whole of Mars to a relatively rare phenomenon. Since humans have been conducting Mars observations it has only been seen about a dozen times.

– The rover is currently in complete darkness. Its power level dropped sharply – from 645 watt-hours on June 2 to about 22 watt-hours on Sunday – June 10 – informed Callas.

Opportunity should wake up as soon as it gets enough sunlight to recharge its batteries. At that time, it should also contact NASA. – We are currently awaiting any signalów from the rover – explained Callas.

However, there is concern that Opportunity’s power level will drop even further. The rover may lose the ability to power its internal clock. This would greatly complicate recovery efforts. And if the batteries remain off for an extended period of time – may freeze thereby ending the rover’s mission. And the storm appears to be intense and could last up to a month.

But as Callas said, NASA scientists are concerned, but they are also of good cheer. There are many reasonsów to think that the rover will wake up. Summer is approaching on Mars and temperatures have already managed to jump up. This is good news because the headóThe major threat to the rover in its current situation is freezing.

Such was the fate of the Spirit rover – Opportunity’s twin design. MER-A, as Spirit was actually called, survived on Mars until May 2011, when the final próba contact from NASA. Then the agency declared the Spirit rover mission complete. The rover probably got buried in Martian sand and failed to move any further to catch enough sunlight to recharge its batteries.

A series of images showing how wok conditions have changedóOpportunity as the storm intensifies, photo. NASA/ JPL-Caltech/TAMU

Teamół from NASA calculated that Opportunity should not currently experience temperatures lower than minus 36 degrees Celsius. Celsius. The rover was designed to tolerate such temperatures, increasing its chances of survival. – Paradoxically, dust mitigates the risk of freezing. It retains some heat, making Opportunity’s temperature marginally higher – Callas said.

With the information Opportunity collected, scientists have hypothesized that liquid water once existed on the Red Planet. PóLater, the rover repeatedly provided evidence of its past existence on the planet.

MER-B has also collected data on Mars’ atmosphere. On top of that, he realized a series of astronomical observations, którich could not be carried out from Earth. It has taken and transmitted to Earth about 225,000 images of the Red Planet. All have been made public.

The rover has traveled more than 45 kilometers since landing in 2004ów. Currently, it is found about one-third of the way in dół on the inner slope of the Endeavour crater. Heads into a channel called "Perseverance Valley".