Published: Wed, June 13, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

NASA’s Opportunity rover halted over Martian dust storm

NASA’s Opportunity rover halted over Martian dust storm

Luckily, NASA has since made contact with the rover, which is encouraging sign.

Nasa wrote: "The storm is one of the most intense ever observed on the Red Planet". This is bad news for the rover since it relies on solar panels for power and to recharge its batteries.

Full dust storms though one are not surprising, but are infrequent. Space.com explains the fine line: Opportunity's handlers need to keep its heaters running at a level that will prevent it from freezing without draining the batteries.

The image above shows progressive views from Opportunity's mastcam, as the dust storm intensified since it was first spotted on May 30, 2018. The extreme cold of Mars is thought to be what killed Opportunity's twin, the Spirit rover, after it got stuck in Martian sand in 2010.

Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has been delivering science from the surface of the Red Planet for over 14 years now - an incredible accomplishment for a robot that was only intended for an initial 90 day mission.

Back in 2007, a much larger storm covered the planet, which led to two weeks of minimal operations and no communications.

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Dust storms on Mars start with sunlight.

Whereas the previous storm had an opacity level (tau) of about 5.5, this new storm has an estimated tau of 10.8. Data from the transmission let engineers know the rover still has enough battery charge to communicate with ground controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

'This latest data transmission showed the rover's temperature to be about minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 degrees Celsius).

This series of images shows simulated views of a darkening Martian sky blotting out the sun from the Opportunity rover's point of view, with the right side simulating Opportunity's current view in the current dust storm.

While the insulating factor of the dust will likely keep Opportunity's instruments from suffering damage from the cold, there is one very serious ramification of this storm. That's of concern. The problem isn't the dust, but the darkness it creates. "They can crop up suddenly but last weeks, even months".

A saving grace about these storms is that they limit the extreme temperature swings, and the dust they kick up can also absorb solar radiation, thus raising ambient temperatures around Opportunity. That would put it in low power fault mode, where the only subsystem to operate is the mission clock, which is set to wake up the computer at certain intervals to recheck the power level. The solar-powered Opportunity has therefore temporarily ceased science operations.

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